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Quick and Easy Guide to Labor & Employment Law: Missouri

This state-specific guide covers labor and employment case law, statutes, rules, and regulations that HR professionals and clients often encounter or have questions about in Missouri.

At-Will Employment

Missouri is an at-will employment state. This means that, absent a contract for a definite term or a statutory or public policy exception, the employer may terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause. Keveney v. Missouri Military Academy, 304 S.W.3d 98, 101 (Mo. 2010); Amaan v. City of Eureka, 615 S.W.2d 414, 415 (Mo. 1981). Missouri has a statutory exception to the at-will employment doctrine which prohibits employers from discharging any individual because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or disability. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.055. Employers in Missouri must also abide by federal statutes restricting the termination of employment relationship such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Missouri also recognizes a narrow public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine wherein a termination may be deemed wrongful if done in violation of a clear mandate of public policy. Boyle v. Vista Eyewear, Inc., 700 S.W.2d 859, 871 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985). Employees in Missouri are protected by the public policy exception if the cause of their termination falls into one of the following four categories: (1) they refused to perform an illegal act or an act contrary to a strong mandate of public policy; (2) they reported the employer or fellow employees to superiors or third parties for violations of law or public policy; (3) they acted in a manner public policy would encourage (e.g., attending jury duty, seeking public office, joining a labor union, testifying as a witness in litigation, etc.); or (4) they filed a claim for worker's compensation. Id. at 873–875; Drury v. Missouri, 259 S.W.3d 558, 567 (Mo. Ct. App. 2008). See also Margiotta v. Christian Hosp., 315 S.W.3d 342, 346–347 (Mo. 2010); Jaeger v. Res. for Human Dev., Inc., 605 S.W.3d 586 (Mo. Ct. App. 2020); DeLaney v. Signature Health Care Found., 376 S.W.3d 55 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012); Hughes v. Bodine Aluminum, Inc., 328 S.W.3d 353 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011); Drury, 259 S.W.3d at 566–559.

The public policy exception exists to prevent employers from terminating employees for actions that are beneficial to society. Jaeger, 605 S.W.3d at 591. As such, an employee need not have incurred actual harm as a result of the violation to successfully assert a cause of action under the public policy exception. Id. However, reliance upon the public policy exception must be based on an employer's wrongful actions related to "a constitutional provision, a statute, a regulation based on a statute or a rule promulgated by a governmental body." Margiotta, 315 S.W.3d at 346. In other words, a cause of action for wrongful termination of at-will employment cannot be based on an employer's general action that is contrary to public policy. Rather, the employer's action must violate some specific authority, and then, that action is subsequently deemed contrary to public policy.

On August 28, 2018, Missouri Senate Bill 1007 became effective. This legislation reformed Missouri's civil service system by effectively removing most state workers from Missouri's merit system, resulting in their classification as at-will employees who are no longer afforded certain protections in hiring, promotions and firing.

Right-to-Work Laws

Missouri is not currently a right-to-work state, meaning the following information is not yet binding. However, legislation is regularly introduced in the Missouri legislature to this end. SB 118 (2021). Right-to-work statutes seek to prevent employers from requiring employees' membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization. Further, these statutes may also provide that an employer cannot deny employment due to an individual's payment or refusal to pay labor union dues or other fees associated with an employee organization. The current bill in the Missouri Senate would create a Class C misdemeanor charge for any employer in violation of the statute. Additionally, an employee who is impacted by the actual or threatened violation of the statute would be entitled to injunctive relief and certain other damages. If enacted, the Missouri bill would not be retroactive, but it would apply to any renewals, extensions, amendments or modifications of previous employment practices.

NOTE: Similar legislation has been regularly introduced in Missouri over the last several years. As recently as 2017, Missouri voters blocked a similar version of this bill that was successfully passed by the Missouri legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Immigration Verification

In Missouri, "[n]o business entity or employer shall knowingly employ, hire for employment, or continue to employ” an undocumented person to work within the state. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 285.530. Missouri requires that all public employers and any employers with (1) a contract or grant with the state in excess of $5,000 or (2) a tax credit, tax abatement or loan from the state enrolled in a federal work authorization program (currently called E-Verify) to ensure employment eligibility for all newly hired employees. Id. Employers subjected to this requirement must provide a sworn affidavit and provision of documentation to affirm (a) their enrollment and participation in E-Verify and (b) that they are not knowingly employing an undocumented person in connection with the contracted services. Id. Additionally, any other employer may enroll in E-Verify; following enrollment, the employer is obligated to verify the employment eligibility of every new employee. Id. 

Drug Testing

Missouri does not regulate or require testing for alcohol or drugs, meaning private employers are free to develop their own testing policies, provided that those policies comply with applicable federal law.

Under Missouri law, if the employer has sufficient cause to suspect use of alcohol or nonprescribed controlled substances by the employee or has a policy authorizing post-injury testing, and an employee refuses to take a test for alcohol or nonprescribed controlled substances, the employee forfeits workers' compensation benefits. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.120.6(3).

In Missouri, to test for nonprescribed controlled substances in the event of an employee's work-related injury, the following procedures should be used:

  1. The employer must administer the initial testing within 24 hours of the accident or injury;
  2. The employer must give notice of the test results to the employee within 14 days of the employer's insurer receiving notice of the confirmatory test results;
  3. The employer must give the employee an opportunity to perform a second test upon the original sample; and
  4. The employer must ensure the test was confirmed by mass spectrometry using generally accepted medical or forensic testing procedures.

If these procedures are followed, a positive test result will create a rebuttable presumption that the nonprescribed controlled substance was in the employee's system at the time of the accident or injury. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.120.6(4).

Additionally, an employee's voluntarily consumption of alcohol resulting in a blood alcohol level at or above the legal intoxication concentration according to Missouri law creates a rebuttable presumption that the employee's voluntary consumption of the alcohol was the proximate cause of the employee's injury. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.120.6(3).

NOTE: Missouri amended its constitution to legalize medical marijuana use. Mo. Const. art. XIV, § 1. Physicians may issue certification for (but not prescribe) medical marijuana use as part of a patient's treatment plan related to qualifying medical conditions. Id. Recreational use of cannabis remains illegal under Missouri law, and civil and criminal laws related to non-medicinal marijuana use remain the same.

Jury Duty Leave

In Missouri, employers are prohibited from terminating, disciplining, threatening or taking adverse actions against employees who receive or respond to a jury summons.  Mo. Rev. Stat. § 494.460.1. An employer cannot require an employee to use annual, vacation, personal or sick leave while participating in any phase of jury duty. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 494.460.3. Additionally, an employer is not required to provide annual, vacation, personal or sick leave to employees participating in the jury process, unless the company policy provides otherwise. Id. If an employer has five or fewer full-time employees, a court must postpose or reschedule services of a summoned juror if another employee has already been summoned to appear within the same period of time. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 494.460.4. Any employee who is discharged for receipt of or response to a jury summons is entitled to file suit against the employer within 90 days of the discharge to recover lost wages, other damages caused by the discharge and an order directing reinstatement of the employee; if the employee prevails, the employee is also entitled to collect reasonable attorney's fees. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 494.460.2

Voting Leave

In Missouri, upon notice to the employer prior to the day of election, any person entitled to vote in any election held within the state is permitted to miss up to three consecutive hours of work during the times the polls are open in order to vote. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 115.639. The employer may specify the three-hour period during which the employee is permitted to miss work to vote, provided that three-hour period is within the times that the polls are open. Id. 

No employer may discharge, threaten to discharge, penalize or discipline an employee for exercising their right under § 115.639. Similarly, no employer may reduce or deduct from the employee's normal salary or wages due to the employee's absence from work to vote. Id. It is a class four election offense and misdemeanor to make, enforce or attempt to enforce any order, rule, regulation or other device to prevent an employee in engaging in political activities; accepting a nomination to, being elected to or holding political office; being a member of a political committee; soliciting or receiving funds for political purposes; acting as chair or participating in political conventions; conducting a political campaign; or signing an initiative, referendum, recall petition or any other petition circulated pursuant to law. Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 115.637(6), 115.639.

NOTE: If, on the day of an election, the polls are open for three consecutive hours not within the employee's scheduled work hours, § 115.639 does not apply. For example, if the employee is scheduled to work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on election day and the polls are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., the employee is not entitled to miss the three hours allotted in § 115.639.

Parental Leave

There is no Missouri statute providing for pregnancy or parental leave, but the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child as part of their 12-week leave entitlement. 5 U.S.C. § 6382. Additionally, guidance issued by the Missouri Commission on Human Rights pursuant to the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) requires employers to provide the same leave benefits to women affected by pregnancy and related conditions as are provided to employees with temporary disabilities. Mo. Code. Regs. tit. 8 § 60-3.040(16). For purposes of MHRA, "employer" means, "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has six or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and shall include the state, or any political or civil subdivision thereof, or any person employing six or more persons within the state but does not include corporations and associations owned or operated by religious or sectarian organizations," among a few other exceptions. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.010.

Smoking Laws

An employer must not discharge, refuse to hire or otherwise disadvantage a person who lawfully uses tobacco products off the employers' premises and not during the person's work hours. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.145. This statute provides an exception where the person's use of tobacco products interferes with their job duties and performance, other employees or the overall operation of the employer's business. Id. Additionally, the statute expressly allows employers to provide or contract for health insurance benefits at a reduced premium rate or deductible for employees who do not use tobacco products. Id. This statute does not apply to religious organizations, church-operated institutions and nonprofit organizations whose principal business is health care promotion. Id. 

Break Time to Express Milk

Missouri state law provides that, "a mother may, with discretion, breastfeed her child or express breast milk in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be." Mo. Rev. Stat. § 191.918. Additionally, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employers provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for their nursing child. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

Meal Breaks

Missouri follows the federal requirements related to meal breaks.

Minimum Wage

Missouri requires employers to pay whichever is higher, the state or federal minimum wage. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.502. As posted on the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations website, effective January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021, Missouri’s minimum wage is $10.30 per hour. For tipped workers, the minimum cash wage is $5.15 per hour with a maximum tip credit of $5.15 per hour. Missouri law also provides special wage and hour requirements (prevailing wage) for labor performed on public works and construction projects. See, e.g., Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.250.

Pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.502(3), effective January 1 in 2022 and 2023, the minimum wage will increase $0.85 per hour to a maximum of $12 per hour in 2023.  Beginning on January 1, 2024, the minimum wage will be adjusted up or down pursuant to the procedures in subsection (2) of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.502. If at any time the federal minimum wage exceeds that which is currently in effect in Missouri, the minimum wage in Missouri will increase to that of the federal minimum wage and will thereafter be adjusted by the methods described in subsections (2) or (3), dependent on the year this occurs.

Final Payments

A discharged employee must be paid all wages due on the date of discharge. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.110. If the wage payment is not made on the day of discharge and the employee requests, in writing, that wages be paid, they must be received within seven days from the date of the request. Id. If payment is not made, the discharged employee's wages continue to accrue until the employee is paid, for not more than 60 days. Id. 

Unused vacation pay or credit are not considered "wages" within the meaning of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.110. Monterosso v. St. Louis Globe-Democrat Pub. Co., 368 S.W.2d 481 (Mo. 1963). Thus, unless an employment agreement or company policy authorizes disbursement of unused vacation pay, a discharged employee is not entitled to disbursement of those funds as wages under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.110. Solter v. P.M. Place Stores, 748 S.W.2d 919 (Mo. Ct. App. 1988).   

Unemployment Insurance

Missouri has an unemployment insurance system administered by the Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations Division of Employment Security (DES), which requires most Missouri employers to contribute to the state unemployment insurance fund. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 288.220. According to the Missouri State Website, unemployment insurance benefits provide income to individuals who have lost work through no fault of their own, are unable to work due to a natural disaster or quit for a good cause related to the work or the employer. The benefits are intended to partially offset the loss of wages while an unemployed worker searches for suitable work or until an employer can recall the employee to work. Nothing is deducted from the employee's wages to pay for this coverage.

Employers are assessed unemployment insurance taxes based on claim histories. The taxes are assessed against employers only; there is no employee liability. Employers are required to remit unemployment insurance taxes and to submit certain related reports on a prescribed schedule, and to keep certain records relating to employment histories. Unemployed workers must meet certain criteria to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. For purposes of unemployment insurance, payroll records must be kept for at least three calendar years after the record was made. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 288.130

More information about Employer Rights and Responsibilities regarding unemployment insurance benefits may be accessed at labor.mo.gov/sites/labor/files/pubs_forms/M-INF-151-AI.pdf.

Workers' Compensation

Missouri has a workers' compensation program that is administered by the Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations Division of Workers' Compensation and contained in Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.010, et seq. The workers' compensation laws apply to all public and private entities employing five or more people and to any construction industry employers who employ at least one person to "erect, demolish, alter or repair improvements." Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.030. Any other public or private entity that employs less than five people may elect to be subject to the provisions under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.090. Id. 

Under Missouri's workers' compensation laws, employers must not discriminate against, or discharge, an employee in retaliation for the employee's exercise of any rights under the workers' compensation statutes. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.780. An employee claiming wrongful discharge in violation of § 287.780 must show that the filing of the workers' compensation claim was a "motivating factor" in the decision to terminate the employee (i.e., the employee's exercise of their rights actually played a role in the termination). 

To have a "work-related" injury for purposes of workers' compensation, the incident causing the injury (i) must have arisen out of and in the course of employment and (ii) must be the "prevailing factor" causing both the resulting medical condition and disability. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.020.3. An injury by accident is covered by these provisions only "if the accident was the prevailing factor in causing both the resulting medical condition and disability." Id. Injuries for which the cause is unknown are not covered. Id. Most injuries that occur when an employee is traveling to and from work are also excluded, even if they occur while the employee is operating a company-owned or subsidized vehicle. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.020.5

NOTE: See Drug Testing section (above) regarding mandatory drug testing when an employee suffers a workplace injury.

Firearm/Weapon Laws

People who have a concealed carry permit or endorsement generally can carry concealed firearms on their person throughout Missouri. However, employers can prohibit employees – even if they hold a concealed carry permit or endorsement – from carrying concealed firearms on employer property if they aren't authorized to do so by employers. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.107.1(15). Employees and other people who hold a concealed carry permit or endorsement cannot carry concealed firearms on private property where one or more signs indicate that concealed firearms are prohibited on the premises. Id. The signs must be at least 11 by 14 inches, have one inch or larger letters, and be displayed in a conspicuous place. Id. Employers must post the signs on or about their premises if carrying concealed firearms is prohibited in their buildings or on their premises that are open to the public. Id. People who have a certain permit or endorsement generally can carry concealed firearms in their vehicle throughout Missouri. However, employers can prohibit employees and other people who hold a concealed carry permit or endorsement from carrying concealed firearms in employer-owned vehicles. Id.

Additional Laws and Regulations

Minimum Age

Persons under age 14 cannot be employed in any gainful occupation, unless working for a parent, legal custodian or guardian, or unless the person is 12 years of age or older and is providing childcare, delivering or selling newspapers, participating as a referee or coach in a youth sporting event, or performing occasional yard or farm work with the knowledge and consent of the parent. Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 294.011(7); 294.021. Persons under the age of 16 may not be employed during the regular school term unless the person has been issued a work certificate or a work permit. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 294.024. Persons between the ages of 14 and 16 may not be employed in hazardous occupations delineated in Mo. Rev. Stat. § 294.040. Subject to a few exceptions, persons under 21 years of age may not sell or dispense alcoholic beverages. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 311.300. Violations of Missouri's child labor laws are misdemeanors. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 294.110.

WARN Laws

Missouri does not have a statute mandating notice for terminations. Employers in Missouri must follow the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN).

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Guide last updated July 2021.

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