The Law Office of Kurt H King

September 5, 2018

Missouri’s Whistleblower Law Applies Only to At-Will Employment, and Not Where Contract Provision Limits the Employer’s Right to Discharge/Terminate

Missouri’s new (08.28.2017) Whistleblower Protection Act, 285.575, RSMo, states that it ‘is intended to codify the existing common law exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine,’ ‘limit their future expansion by the courts,’ ‘and provide the exclusive remedy for any and all claims of unlawful employment practices.’”

The words of  the WPA limits its application to “at-will” employment.  What about cases where there a contract provision limits the reasons for which an employee may be lawfully terminated?  Does the WPA apply to wrongful termination for violation of public policy in a contract setting?  Apparently not.

Where a contract limits the reasons for which an employee may be discharged, the employment is not at-will in that regard.  When a labor agreement or other contract (Corporate Integrity Agreement?) prohibits retaliatory firing of an employees in violation of public policy set forth by constitution/statute/regulation, the employment is not at-will and the WPA should not apply. 

Missouri courts have long so held that employment is not at-will where “there is a contract “pertaining to the duration of the employment or limiting the reasons for which the employee may be discharged . . . .”  Maddock v. Lewis, 386 S.W.2d 406, 409 (Mo. 1965) (suit against railroad for breach of union contract); Williams v. Kansas City Public Service Co., 294 S.W.2d 36, 38 (Mo. 1956) (count II against Anheuser-Busch for breach of collective bargaining agreement).

More recently, the Missouri Supreme Court recognized this distinction in Keveney v. Missouri Military Academy, 304 S.W.3d 98, 103 (Mo. banc 2010), where it extended the claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy to cover contract employees (a teacher), in addition to at-will employees.

In short, the new whistleblower law should apply only to at-will employees, not reaching claims for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy where a contract limits the employer’s right to terminate an employee.

Kurt H. King, Missouri Attorney

816.781.6000

20 E. Franklin, Liberty, Clay County, Missouri 64068

Retaliation & Discrimination, Litigation, General Matters

 

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