WORKERS’ COMPENSATION RETALIATORY
DISCHARGE RSMO. § 287.780
By Jack Fleming, VBM Attorney
Article written May 9, 2022
The Missouri legislature has given employees a cause of action against their employers for retaliatory discharge when employers have fired or otherwise discriminated against the employee because they have exercised their rights under the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Laws (Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 287). RSMo. § 287.780 governs these retaliatory discharge claims. The statute allows the employee to file a lawsuit in Missouri circuit court and obtain compensatory, as well as punitive damages. As of August 28, 2017, the employee must prove that their exercising of rights under the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Laws (such as filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits) was a “motivating factor” in the employer’s decision to fire or otherwise discriminate against the employee.
- refusal to give an employee a promotion, salary or pay increases;
- reassignment to a less desirous job or location;
- reprimanding an employee for conduct for which other employees were not reprimanded;
- denying break privileges and favorable job assignments to an employee that had been granted prior to the employee's exercise of rights under Chapter 287;
- deriding or complaining about the employee to co-workers; and
- ignoring or refusing repeated efforts and offers by the employee to return to work.
Interestingly, state employers are protected by sovereign immunity from claims of retaliatory discharge under RSMo. § 287.780 because RSMo. § 105.850 has been construed by courts as preserving the State's sovereign immunity against tort claims, including the tort of retaliatory discharge based on § 287.780. See Wille v. Curators of Univ. of Missouri, 627 S.W.3d 56, 65 (Mo. Ct. App. 2021), transfer denied (Aug. 31, 2021). However, an employee may still have a claim for injunctive relief against a state employer for reinstatement.
For employers – bad timing can create a strong inference of retaliation. If you choose to terminate an employee who recently filed a claim for compensation, make sure your reasons for termination are well documented in the employee’s personnel file. It is usually best to obtain advice from your attorney before terminating an employee who has complained of discrimination or has filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. A civil suit for retaliatory discharge is much worse for an employer because of attorney’s fees, protracted litigation, and the possibility of punitive damages. Although recent changes in the law make it harder for an employee to prove retaliatory discharge (because of the “motivating factor” standard), civil litigation in circuit court is something that should be avoided at all costs. Proper documentation for any disciplinary action, demotion, or termination is essential to avoiding retaliatory discharge lawsuits, and, in the event the employee does file a lawsuit, will be crucial to the employer in defending the case.
If you have any questions regarding a possible claim of retaliatory discharge, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
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