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A Muslim prison guard in Missouri won a large settlement in 2023 after experiencing illegal discrimination at her job. She was mocked by her supervisor for the way she spoke and was also assigned to transfer nude male prisoners, which is not allowed in her religion. More so, she was not allowed to take time off to observe a Muslim holiday. This is just one example of workplace harassment that employees encounter.

While there are laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, employees are still likely to face discrimination. In Missouri, there are 33 complaints per 100,000 people, making it the 19th state with the highest rate of employment discrimination in the U.S. 

An employee or an applicant experiences discrimination in the workplace when they are treated less favorably than other workers based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, or other circumstances. Due to the likelihood of workplace discrimination and other unfair practices, employment and labor laws are put in place to ensure safety, fairness, and equitable compensation for employees. The Missouri Human Rights Act, for instance, specifically aims to prevent illegal discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Employment law solves issues between an employer and an employee. While it combats workplace discrimination, it also revolves around cases that involve wage policies, recruitment practices, and work hours. On the other hand, labor law deals with issues between an employer and a collective group. It handles cases such as union dues, union membership, and the negotiation and implementation of collective bargaining agreements.

In Missouri, the state grants employees enhanced protections beyond federal mandates. Employers are to face severe consequences if proven to have violated such regulations that are designed for the welfare of employees. This article tackles the basics of employment and labor laws in Missouri.

Missouri Wage and Hours Law

Minimum Wage

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has announced that, effective January 1, 2024, private employers are required to pay their employees a minimum wage rate of $12.30 per hour. All private businesses are required to pay the said hourly rate to their employees. Tipped employees should receive at least 50% of the minimum wage, or $6.15 per hour, plus an added amount that will bring the tipped employee's total compensation to a minimum of $12.30 per hour.

Retail and service businesses with gross annual sales of less than $500,000 are exempt from this law. The minimum wage law also does not apply to public employers. Furthermore, the minimum wage rate should not be lower than the federal minimum wage.

Employees who are not being paid correctly can file a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards by calling 573-751-3403 or sending a message to The employee will need to fill out the Minimum Wage Complaint Form for the department to start conducting an investigation. 

Affected employees have the right to collect any wages due. Employers who unlawfully pay their employees shall be held liable for liquidated damages, less the amount paid, and for additional expenses allowed by the court or jury.

Wage Payment

The Missouri Legislature revised Section 290.080.1, which regulates the frequency of when employees should receive their payouts. According to the revised law, businesses in Missouri should pay their employees salaries as often as semi-monthly, within 16 days of the close of each payroll period. Employers are also required to provide employees with an itemized pay statement indicating the total amount of deductions for the period. Salespeople, as well as executive, administrative, and professional employees who receive full or part commission, may be paid monthly. 

Late payment of wages or withholding employee paychecks is illegal under state law. A violation will be charged with a misdemeanor and will result in a fine of between $50 and $500 for each offense.

Work Hours

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees in Missouri have no minimum or maximum number of work hours. Employers are required to pay their employees for the actual number of hours they have worked, according to the state's employment laws.

Travel Time

Employees required to travel during normal work hours as part of their job are entitled to compensation. Employers should consider travel time as work time and include it in the employee's overall pay.

Overtime Pay

If an employee works for more than 40 hours in a work week, they are entitled to receive overwork pay. This overtime wage must be at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay. Employees are not allowed to voluntarily waive their rights to overtime pay and accept straight time, as per state and federal laws. If their employer forces them to do so, employees have the right to file a wage complaint.

Time Off

Employers have the discretion to provide or not provide vacation and sick leave. On the other hand, employees have a legal right to take time off for certain reasons under federal and state laws:

Family and Medical Leave

Employees in Missouri have the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to take care of their child, spouse, or parent who is seriously ill, as per the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the FMLA, employers should allow employees to take a leave for up to 26 weeks to take care of a family member who suffered or exacerbated a serious illness or injury while serving in the military. 

Note that only employees who have worked for an employer for at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave are eligible for the provisions set by the FMLA.

Military Leave

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act grants employees the right to be reinstated to their civilian jobs after taking a five-year time off to join the U.S. military service. The USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their military service.

Time Off for Voting

Employees in Missouri have the right to take time off to vote. They are allowed to take up to three hours off to vote, and this time off must be paid.

Time Off for Jury Duty

Employees in Missouri have the right to take a leave to serve on a jury. Employers are not required to pay employees for this period of absence. Unless the employee did no work for the entire week, employers cannot deduct an exempt, salaried employee's pay for time off for jury duty under federal law.

Youth Employment

Missouri understands the benefits of having youth in the workforce. But to avoid exploitation, the state has established strict child labor laws.

As per Missouri's Child Labor Law, youth under the age of 14 are not allowed to work at any jobs, except in the agriculture or entertainment industries or casual jobs. Those who are 14 or 15 may be allowed to work, but there are some restrictions. For instance, there are different acceptable work hours depending on whether school is in session or not.

During Labor Day to June 1, when school is in session, work hours should be no more than three hours on school days and no more than eight hours during weekends or school breaks. Further, young people aged 14 and 15 should only work no more than six days a week. Meanwhile, workdays from June 1 to Labor Day, when school is not in session, should be no more than eight hours on non-school days and no more than six days a week.

The employer has discretion over breaks and lunch, which are not required. However, breaks and rest periods for youth workers in the entertainment industry are required. 

Youth workers also have the right to receive the state minimum wage rate. 

For minors aged 16 and 17, these restrictions do not apply.

Is Missouri an At-Will Employment State?

Missouri is an at-will employment state. This means that an employer may discharge an employee with or without any reason as long as there are no violations of the anti-discrimination laws. There should also be no merit laws or state-limited public policy exceptions that apply.

Under the limited public policy exception, an employer may not terminate an employee's contract for the following reasons:

  • The refusal to violate the law or any clear and well-established mandate of public policy, as expressed in the constitution, statutes, regulations, or rules created by a governmental body.

  • Reporting law violations to superiors or public authorities.

The employee may sue for wrongful discharge if terminated because of the mentioned factors. Note that an employee cannot sue for wrongful dismissal without substantial evidence that there is a law violation behind the termination.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Missouri?

Illegally terminated employees have the right to sue their employer for wrongful termination. Although employees work at will in Missouri, there are some exceptions to the rule. The constitution of wrongful termination occurs in the following ways:

Discriminatory Reasons

It is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee for discriminatory reasons. According to Missouri law, employers cannot discriminate against employees based on protected categories, including:

  • Age.

  • Citizenship status.

  • Color.

  • Disability.

  • Ethnicity.

  • Gender.

  • Race.

  • Religious affiliation.

The Missouri Human Rights Act prevents employers from terminating their employees due to discrimination.

Retaliation Within Missouri

It is prohibited for employers to terminate employees due to retaliation for asserting rights protected by law. These rights include filing complaints or being a part of an investigation against discriminatory practices.

Breach of Contract

A written and signed employment contract between the involved parties is necessary to change one’s employment status from the standard at-will agreement in Missouri. While other states accept an “implied contract” that hinges on oral agreements and employee handbooks, Missouri does not. Therefore, a written contract is needed if you were to file a wrongful termination claim in the state based on a breach. If there's a written contract, employers are not allowed to fire employees for no good reason, or else this will be grounds for a breach of contract.

Wage and Hour Complaints

As previously mentioned, the minimum wage rate per hour is $12.30. Breaks are also at the discretion of the employers. Discharged employees who make wage and hour complaints have the right to pursue a wrongful termination claim.

Prohibiting Time Off

Federal and state laws protect employees in Missouri when they take time off work for certain reasons, such as caring for family, serving on a jury, or voting. Employers are prohibited from terminating employees for taking a leave from work due to these undertakings.

Other Reasons

Employers cannot terminate employees solely for exercising their rights under state workers' compensation laws. They are not allowed to fire employees for reporting violations of workplace safety or refusing to participate in an activity that is illegal or contrary to public policy. Furthermore, employers may not terminate employees for engaging in off-duty conduct, such as smoking cigarettes.

How Do You Report an Employer in Missouri for Wrongful Termination?

Wrongfully discharged employees can file a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights for retaliation, discriminatory practices, or other reasons.

To file a complaint with MCHR for alleged discrimination, employees must do so within 180 days of the incident. Additionally, employees must first take the Discrimination Complaint Assessment to determine if MCHR has jurisdiction over the issue. Upon completion of the assessment, employees will receive instructions on how to proceed with filing the complaint.

Employees can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the wrongful termination incident. Information such as the employer's details, a brief description of the event, and the date when this occurred will help establish the complaint. The EEOC office in Missouri is located at the Robert A. Young Federal Building, 1222 Spruce St., Rm. 8.100, in St. Louis.

Although employees who were wrongfully terminated can file the complaint on their own, contacting an employment lawyer for legal assistance would still be beneficial. Wrongful termination can be complex in nature. An attorney can help evaluate the merits of a potential legal claim, assist in filing, and collect substantial pieces of evidence to strengthen a wrongful termination case.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Missouri?

There are usually time constraints when it comes to filing cases. Employees who have experienced workplace discrimination must file their discrimination charge with MCHR within 180 days. Under federal law, they have 300 days to file a complaint with the EEOC.

In addition, employees who have a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC or MCHR have 90 days from the date of the letter to file a case in federal court.

For employees wrongfully terminated because of a breach of a written contract, the general contract statute of limitations is five years.

Employees that are unlawfully fired for reasons listed in Sections 320.330 to 320.339 have one year from the date the wrongful termination occurred to file legal action. Failure to make the claim within the applicable time limit will likely result in the dismissal of the case, preventing the wrongfully terminated employee from fighting for their rights and recovering damages.

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Missouri for Wrongful Termination?

Employees who can prove wrongful discharge in Missouri are entitled to recover lost wages, damages for mental and emotional distress, and other types of damages. The exact amount of compensation depends on each case.

According to Missouri law, employers must provide employees with their final pay on the same day they are fired. Employers have seven days to give the employees their unpaid wages. A wrongfully terminated employee may also be able to claim vacation wages or paid time off, depending on their employment contract.

Wrongful termination victims also have the right to recover punitive damages from discriminatory employers. Such damages are designed to punish employers for their illegal behavior and prevent them from doing the same bad act again. The cost of punitive damages varies with the severity of the discrimination. State law caps punitive damages at either five times the net amount of the judgment or $500,000, whichever is larger.

The average amount of settlement an individual can get for being wrongfully terminated in Missouri ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. If the case goes to court, the usual jury awards can sometimes reach up to $300,000.

In one wrongful termination case in Missouri, an employee in St. Charles County was fired in 2018 due to disability. After the jury sided with him, he received more than half a million dollars — $527,000 to be exact. It all started when the employee requested workplace accommodations related to his disability, but his employer fired him instead, which violated the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Resources for Employees in Missouri

Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations - Discrimination

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has a dedicated page that discusses the different areas of discrimination. It provides insights to help employees determine whether their experience is considered employment discrimination or not. It also features a video of a talk about discrimination, an assessment to find out the accessibility of a workplace, and a sign-up link to various trainings and presentations.

Missouri Free Legal Answers

Missouri Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic. Individuals who were wrongfully terminated can easily post their legal questions here, which will be answered by pro bono attorneys. Aside from labor and employment law questions, Missourians can post queries related to family law, consumer rights, unemployment, and more. This website is a project of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

The Missouri Bar's Lawyer Referral Service

Wrongfully terminated employees who are not supported by an attorney can find one on the Missouri Bar's Lawyer Search page. This page provides a list of attorneys in different areas of the law, including employment law. Web visitors simply have to select the practice area in the drop-down menu and insert their city and zip code. Each of the listed attorney names has their own details provided, including their address, phone and fax numbers, email address, and website.

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