The foreseeable effects of “strictly construing” Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws continue to unfold. Just last week, the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled that employers could legally discriminate against former employees who filed for workers’ compensation or reported a workplace injury. The pertinent statutes were not crystal clear that such retaliation was unlawful, so the Supreme Court said it had to read their worker protections narrowly.
Employer Blatantly Retaliates Against Worker for Reporting Injury, Then Refuses to Rehire
The case is Lisle v. Meyer Electric Co., Inc.
An electrician told his foreman that he was suffering from work-related carpal tunnel syndrome. The foreman responded, “If you ask for an injury report, they will lay you off.” When the company president learned that the electrician asked for an injury report, he fired the worker.
The electrician filed for workers’ compensation and filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
Over a year later, while the wrongful termination claim was still pending, the electrician applied for a job with the same company. Even though he had priority through his union, the electrician was not hired. The foreman texted the electrician to say that the company president had told him not to hire the electrician.
The electrician filed another lawsuit against the company, arguing that this amounted to retaliation for him filing his workers’ compensation claim.
The case went to the state supreme court.
Supreme Court of Missouri Strictly Construes Law in Favor of Employer
The sole issue on appeal was whether workers’ compensation law – in this case, Missouri Statute 287.780 – protected former employees from retaliation.
The Supreme Court noted that the statute and the law’s definitions use the present tense to describe protected working relationships, but also that other provisions in workers’ compensation law seemed to imply that the prohibition against retaliation was a very broad workplace right.
The court ruled that, because it was ambiguous, Missouri Statute 287.800, which requires courts to strictly construe workers’ compensation law, controlled the outcome. Strictly construed against the worker, the law requires there to be a current employment relationship for there to be retaliation. Former employees are not protected.
The Supreme Court added that the legislature could have added language to explicitly extend legal protections for filing workers’ compensation claims to former employees, but did not do so.
Hurt Workers Face an Uphill Battle
As we have pointed out time and time and time again on this blog, the law that requires courts and the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) to strictly construe workers’ compensation law against the very people it was meant to protect undermines the system’s entire point. That provision in the law tells the LIRC or courts to look for ways to reject a claim for compensation by reading worker entitlements as narrowly as possible.
It should come as no surprise that employers have become emboldened enough to fire workers who merely ask for an injury report.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
The personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at the Smith Law Office represent hurt workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, and the rest of western Missouri. Contact them online or call them at (816) 875-9373.