Workers’ compensation is a bottom-line issue for Missouri employers and it is an ongoing challenge to keep up with anti-employer court rulings that annually erode Missouri’s workers’ compensation system. A leading priority of the Missouri Chamber in the upcoming session is to address an April 2014 ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court that gives employees a much easier time winning cases against employers by alleging discrimination involving workers’ compensation claims. As a result of the Templemire v. W&M Welding ruling, employees only have to prove that their workers’ compensation claims were a “contributing factor” in their dismissal or demotion in order to win lawsuits claiming retaliation. This disregards 30 years of case law that required the workers’ compensation claim to be the “exclusive reason.”
“Adopting a ‘contributing factor’ standard is a stark change in our status as an employment-at-will state,” Mehan said. “There is no doubt this ruling will greatly increase employer liability by lowering the standard of proof necessary for an employee to prevail in a wrongful termination case against an employer.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry filed an amicus brief in support of the employer’s position in the case. Originally filed in 2007, the plaintiff Templemire claims he was fired because of his filing of a workers’ compensation claim, while the company claims he was fired for failing to complete an assigned work task. At trial and on appeal, the courts found that Templemire could not receive compensation for his wrongful termination claim because his workers’ compensation claim was not the “exclusive cause” of his termination from employment. The Missouri Chamber supports the position of both the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals that “exclusive factor” is the appropriate standard used in workers’ compensation retaliatory claims. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling.