Clients often call me claiming they have a wrongful termination case. Usually the conversation goes something like this;
Client – “My boss fired me for not showing up yesterday.”
Me – “Do you have a contract that says they can’t do that?”
“No – I don’t have a contract.”
“Then you are probably an at will employee, which means they could fire you for just about anything.”
While most employees are at-will and can be terminated for just about any reason, occasionally employers take it too far. The Supreme Court of Missouri recently heard one such case. In February, the court ruled that an employer may not fire an employee for refusing to violate public policy. In short, if an employer asks you to break the law and you refuse—they can’t fire you.
In that case, Keveneny v.Missouri Military Academy, No. SC89925 (Feb. 9, 2010), a school teacher was told by his superiors that one of his students might come to classes with bruises and that the teacher should not report the potential child abuse. This is in direct conflict with a state statute that requires teachers to report possibly child abuse.
The employer argued that the teacher was fired legitimately for being insubordinate. That’s right; the employer said we can fire him because he wouldn’t break the law for us.
Until February 2010, this was legal in Missouri. I’ll address more specifics on wrongful termination in future articles.