A frequent concern that employees have when they get hurt on the job is getting fired for exercising their rights to workers’ compensation. The law in Missouri is clear: Your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting a workplace injury.
In practice, though, it is more complicated.
Missouri Law Forbids Retaliation Against Workers
Missouri Statute 287.780 is straightforward when it says that “No employer or agent shall discharge or discriminate against any employee for exercising any of his or her rights” under workers’ compensation law.
This prohibition is universal in the United States. It is unlawful everywhere for employers to fire someone or take a negative employment action against them – like demoting or suspending them – for invoking their workers’ compensation rights. Allowing this kind of retaliatory conduct would completely undermine the workers’ compensation system. Very few people would make use of their rights if it could cost them their job.
But there is one crucially important caveat: The connection between the exercise of your workers’ compensation rights and the discharge.
Invocation of Rights Must Be “Motivating Factor” in Discharge in Missouri
There are a variety of approaches to this issue. Some worker-friendly states only make employees show that the invocation of their workers’ compensation rights was a “contributing factor” to their discharge. Pro-business states demand proof that it was the “sole factor” in the discharge.
The difference between these two extremes is huge. In “sole factor” states, employers can point to any workplace inadequacy – like you were a few minutes late for work on just one day – as a way to introduce another reason for the discharge so it was not “solely” due to your workers’ compensation claims. In “contributing factor” states, temporal proximity alone may be enough to build a retaliation claim.
Missouri, however, takes what appears at first glance to be a middle ground. Missouri Statute 287.780 requires the invocation of workers’ compensation rights to be the “motivating factor” in the discharge or discrimination.
While this seems to fall somewhere between a “sole” and a “contributing” factor, in reality it is very, very close to the “sole factor” test. Fired workers now have to find the “smoking gun” that proves that their workers’ comp claims triggered their discharge or other setback. In a way, proving that the discharge was “motivated” by the workers’ compensation claims is even more arduous than showing that the claims were the “sole factor” for the discharge: It requires evidence of the employer’s intent.
A Big Rollback of Workers’ Rights
The law was not always this way in Missouri. Our state’s supreme court waffled from taking the “sole factor” approach to the “contributing factor” path in 2014. But then the pro-business Missouri Legislature stepped into the fray in 2017 and passed Senate Bill 66, which adopted the “motivating factor” test that we have today. The impact of this law on workers’ compensation claims has been significant, further stacking the deck against hurt workers.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office represent hurt workers in St. Joseph, Springfield, Kansas City, and the rest of western Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.