Guide to Firing Employees in Missouri for Employers

April 7th 2024

Firing an employee is one of the most challenging tasks an employer faces. Whether due to performance issues, misconduct, or restructuring, terminating an employee requires careful consideration, clear communication, and compliance with legal requirements. For employers in Missouri, understanding the relevant laws and best practices is essential to navigating the termination process effectively and minimizing potential risks.

This guide aims to provide employers in Missouri with a comprehensive overview of the key considerations and steps involved in firing employees.

This firing guide covers:

What Does Firing an Employee in Missouri Involve?
Differentiating between Firing, Layoffs, and Resignations in Missouri
Why Does a Well-Planned Termination Process Matter in Missouri?
Termination Laws in Missouri: What You Need to Know
Legal Implications of Wrongful Termination in Missouri
Required Documents for Employers and Terminated Employees in Missouri
Who is Responsible for Firing Employees in Missouri?
How Long is the Termination Process in Missouri?
How Can You Prepare for Termination in Missouri?
Steps for a Respectful Termination Process in Missouri
Post-Termination: What Happens Next After Terminating an Employee in Missouri?
Legal Considerations During Termination in Missouri
Bonus: Best Practices for Reducing Litigation Risks in Missouri

What Does Firing an Employee in Missouri Involve?

Missouri is an “at-will” employment state, which means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason, as long as it is not illegal (e.g., retaliation, discrimination). Similarly, employees can resign at any time without prior notice. While providing notice of termination or resignation is not required by law, providing an advance notice of employment termination can be a professional courtesy. Some employers specify regulations concerning notices in their employment contract or company policy.

Besides giving termination notice, specific procedures and requirements may vary depending on the employer’s policies, employment contract, and circumstances surrounding the termination. Nevertheless, employers should ensure that their termination process complies with all state and federal laws.

Differentiating between Firing, Layoffs, and Resignations in Missouri

In the context of employment termination in Missouri, employers must know the difference between firings, layoffs, and resignations. Employers and employees in Missouri must know the difference between these employment actions to ensure fair and lawful treatment throughout the employment relationship.

Firing in Missouri

Firing, which is also known as dismissal or termination of employees, is an employer-initiated action. It occurs when an employer ends the employment relationship with an employee due to performance issues, misconduct, or a violation of company policies. Although Missouri is an at-will state, employers must ensure compliance with federal and state laws regarding wrongful termination, discrimination, and retaliation.

Layoffs in Missouri

Layoff is also an employer-initiated action, which occurs when an employer needs to reduce its workforce due to organizational restructuring, economic reasons, or other business-related factors. Unlike firings, layoffs often affect multiple employees simultaneously.

In Missouri, employers must comply with federal and state laws concerning layoffs, including the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires them to provide advance notice to affected employees.

Resignations in Missouri

Unlike the firing or laying off of an employee, resigning is an employee-initiated action. Resignation happens when an employee voluntarily chooses to end their employment with an employer. Common reasons for resignation include career advancement opportunities, dissatisfaction with their current job, or personal reasons.

In Missouri, employees are not required to provide advance notice of resignation unless it is stipulated in the employment contract or company policy. However, giving notice prior to resignation is considered a professional courtesy. This also helps ensure a smooth transition for both the employer and the departing employee. Meanwhile, employers need to process resignations promptly and finalize any outstanding employment-related matters.

Why Does a Well-Planned Termination Process Matter in Missouri?

It is important to have a well-structured and thoughtful termination process for several reasons:

  •  Legal compliance: Missouri, like many other states, has laws and regulations governing employment termination. A well-planned termination process helps ensure compliance with these laws, reducing the risk of potential legal claims such as wrongful termination or discrimination.
  • Mitigation of legal risks: By following a structured termination process that adheres to legal requirements and company policies, employers can mitigate the risk of facing costly litigation or administrative complaints. This can save time, money, and reputation damage for the employer.
  • Consistency and fairness: A well-planned termination process promotes consistency and fairness in how termination decisions are made and communicated to employees. This helps avoid perceptions of favoritism or discrimination, fostering a positive work environment and employee morale.
  • Documentation and recordkeeping: A structured termination process includes proper documentation of performance issues, disciplinary actions, and the reasons for termination. This documentation can serve as evidence in cases of legal challenges and helps protect the employer’s interests.
  • Preservation of company reputation: Even in cases of termination, maintaining professionalism and respect can help preserve relationships and protect the employer’s reputation. A well-planned termination process includes considerations for handling the departure sensitively and professionally.

Termination Laws in Missouri: What You Need to Know

Termination laws in Missouri govern the process and circumstances under which employers can terminate employees, ensuring fairness and compliance with state and federal regulations.

  • Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA): The MHRA prohibits discrimination in employment based on protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, and familial status. This law prohibits employers from terminating employees based on these protected characteristics.
  • Missouri Whistleblower Protection Act: The Whistleblower Protection Act protects employees from retaliation by their employers for reporting violations of law, rules, or regulations to appropriate authorities. This law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who engage in whistleblowing activities.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII is the federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): The ADEA prohibits employment discrimination against individuals who are 40 years of age or older. It applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits employment discrimination based on disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA provides eligible employees with job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, including the birth or adoption of a child, caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or the employee’s serious health condition. The FMLA is relevant to termination because it prohibits employers from terminating employees for taking FMLA-protected leave. It also requires employers to reinstate employees to their prior position or an equivalent position upon return from FMLA leave.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The FLSA sets minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards for covered employers.

Wrongful termination in Missouri occurs when an employer dismisses an employee in contravention of state or federal laws, public policy, or contractual agreements. Employees who believe they’ve been wrongfully terminated in Missouri may seek legal remedies, including:

  • Back pay: Compensation for lost wages and benefits from termination to case resolution.
  • Front pay: Compensation for future lost wages and benefits.
  • Compensatory damages: Damages for emotional distress, pain, and suffering.
  • Punitive damages: Additional damages to penalize the employer for misconduct.

Employees alleging unlawful termination may file a complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency, such as the Missouri Commission on Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Required Documents for Employers and Terminated Employees in Missouri

In Missouri, both employers and terminated employees are required to provide the following:

Employers’ Requirements

  • Termination notice or letter: While it’s not legally mandated, employers are advised to provide a termination notice or letter to the employee stating the reasons for termination and the effective date of termination. The notice should be clear, concise, and professional.
  • Termination documentation: Employers should maintain documentation related to the termination, including performance evaluations, disciplinary records, the termination notice or letter, and any other relevant communications or documentation.
  • Final paycheck: Employers are generally required to provide a terminated employee with their final paycheck, including any accrued but unused vacation or PTO, on or before the next regular payday following the termination date.
  • COBRA notification: If the employer offers group health insurance coverage, they are required to provide the terminated employee with a notice of their rights under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). This notice explains the employee’s options for continuing health insurance coverage after termination.
  • Unemployment insurance benefits:  Employers should provide terminated employees with information about how to apply for unemployment compensation benefits. This may include providing the employee with a copy of the Missouri Division of Employment Security’s unemployment claim form or directing them to the appropriate resources.
  • Return of company property: Employers should ensure that terminated employees return all company property belonging to the company.

Terminated Employees’ Requirements

  • Final paycheck: Terminated employees should ensure that they receive their final paycheck from the employer, including any accrued but unused vacation or PTO, on or before the next regular payday following the termination date.
  • COBRA application notice:  If the terminated employee was enrolled in the employer’s group health insurance plan, they should receive a COBRA election notice informing them of their right to continue health insurance coverage under COBRA. The employee must decide whether to elect COBRA coverage within a specified time frame.
  • Review severance agreements: Some employers offer severance packages to terminated employees. In such cases, employees have to review the service agreement before signing.
  • Unemployment insurance benefit: Terminated employees should promptly apply for unemployment compensation benefits through the Missouri Division of Employment Security if they are eligible.
  • Return company property: Employees must return all company property (e.g., keys, access cards, company-issued laptops or phones, equipment).
  • Review of termination document: Terminated employees may request copies of any documentation related to their termination for their records and potential future reference.

Who is Responsible for Terminating in Missouri?

In Missouri, the responsibility for firing employees falls on the employer. However, various personnel within the company may play a distinct role and have the authority to make employment decisions:

Role and Responsibilities of Human Resources 

HR professionals are responsible for:

  • Developing and implementing company policies and procedures related to employee termination in compliance with federal and state regulations.
  • Advising managers and supervisors on termination procedures.
  • Ensuring that termination procedures are carried out in compliance with company policies, as well as federal and state laws.
  • Conducting exit interviews with terminated employees to gather feedback and address any concerns.

Role and Responsibilities of Managers

Managers and supervisors often have direct involvement in the termination process, as they may be the ones initiating or recommending the termination decision. Managers are responsible for:

  • Documenting performance issues or misconduct leading to termination.
  • Communicating termination decisions to employees professionally and respectfully, following company protocols and legal requirements.
  • Coordinating with HR and other relevant departments to ensure a smooth transition for the departing employee and the remaining team.
  • Addressing any immediate operational needs or concerns arising from the termination.

Role and Responsibilities of Legal Counsel

Legal counsel provides guidance and expertise on legal matters related to employment termination. Some of their key responsibilities include:

  • Advising HR professionals, managers, and employers on legal considerations and potential liabilities associated with termination decisions.
  • Reviewing termination documentation to ensure compliance with applicable laws and protect the company’s interests.
  • Providing representation and legal defense in the event of legal challenges or disputes arising from termination decisions.

How Long is the Termination Process in Missouri?

In Missouri, the duration of the termination process can vary significantly depending on the specific circumstances. In some cases, termination may be swift and straightforward, while in others, it may have a more extended transition period or may involve legal proceedings.

The timeframe of the termination period may vary depending on the following periods:

  • Initial Decision: The termination process begins when the employer decides to terminate an employee. This decision is based on performance issues, misconduct, or violations of company policy. 
  • Investigation Period: When the termination is based on employee performance or misconduct, the employer must conduct a thorough investigation. Relevant evidence must be gathered to support the termination.
  • Notice Period: Once the decision to terminate has been made, employers have to notify the employee of the termination. The notice period may occur through a termination letter indicating the effective date of termination and any relevant information related to any employment-related matters.
  • Termination Meeting: Employers need to schedule a meeting with the employee to communicate the decision and discuss the next steps. Employees may also raise their concerns. This period may be the shortest in the termination period.
  • Transition Period: In this period, the departing employee wraps up their work, transfers responsibilities, or assists with training the replacement employee. This period varies in length as it depends on the nature of the departing employee’s role and the employer’s needs.
  • Exit Interview: Some employers conduct exit interviews with departing employees to gather feedback and identify areas for improvement in the workplace.
  • Legal Considerations: Throughout the termination process, employers must ensure compliance with applicable state and federal laws.

Employers should handle terminations with professionalism, fairness, and sensitivity to minimize disruption of the process and protect the rights of both parties involved.

How Can You Prepare for Termination in Missouri?

Preparing for termination in Missouri involves careful planning, documentation, and adherence to legal requirements. Here are the things you should prepare to ensure a smooth and legally compliant process:

  • Review Company Policies and Employment Contracts: Before terminating an employee, review company policies and employment contracts to ensure compliance with termination procedures, notice requirements, and other contractual obligations.
  • Document Performance or Conduct Issues: Gather documentation concerning performance evaluations, attendance logs, disciplinary records, and any relevant correspondence. Keep a thorough record of any performance issues, policy violations, or misconduct that may justify the termination.
  • Consider Alternatives to Termination: Employers may consider alternatives to termination, such as performance improvement plans, training opportunities, or reassignment to a different position. Exhausting all possible options before deciding to terminate an employee demonstrates fairness.
  • Write a Termination Notice or Letter: Prepare a termination letter outlining the grounds for termination, the effective date, final pay and benefits information, and other steps related to employment termination.
  • Prepare for the Termination Meeting: Plan the termination meeting carefully and ensure it is conducted privately and respectfully. 
  • Arrange for Security and IT Protocols: If necessary, employers need to make arrangements for security and IT personnel to revoke the departing employee’s access to company systems and sensitive information promptly.
  • Communicate Effectively: Employers need to be transparent and empathetic when communicating their decision to terminate the employee. The reasons for the termination must be explained clearly and provide the employee with an opportunity to discuss concerns and ask questions.
  • Handle Logistics: Arrange for the return of company property and ensure the processing of the employee’s final paycheck, including any applicable benefits.
  • Plan for Transition: Create a plan for transitioning the employee’s responsibilities to other team members. This ensures that critical tasks are delegated immediately to minimize disruption to business operations.

Steps for a Respectful Termination Process in Missouri

A respectful termination process in Missouri involves treating employees with dignity, compassion, and fairness while ensuring compliance with the termination laws. Here are steps to maintain the fair and respectful treatment of employees towards termination:

  • Plan the termination process carefully: Before initiating the termination, employers should thoroughly assess the situation, consider all factors involved, and ensure that the decision is justified. Careful planning helps minimize the risk of legal disputes and ensures that the termination is conducted in a fair and legally compliant manner.
  • Inform the employee respectfully and compassionately: When informing the employee of the termination, choose an appropriate time and setting for the meeting, deliver the message directly and clearly, and provide an opportunity for the employee to ask questions or express concerns.
  • Provide empathy and support: Employers should communicate the decision with empathy, acknowledging the impact it may have on the employee and offering support during this challenging time.
  • Handle logistics promptly: After informing the employee of the termination, employers should promptly address logistical matters. Handling these logistics helps minimize disruption to the employee and the organization and ensures a smooth transition out of the company.
  • Follow up with the employee and provide support: This may include providing information about unemployment benefits, offering references or networking opportunities, or connecting the employee with outplacement services.
  • Always maintain professionalism during the termination process: This includes refraining from personal attacks or criticisms, avoiding confrontational or hostile behavior, and adhering to company policies and procedures. By conducting the termination with professionalism and respect, employers can minimize the risk of legal complications and preserve their reputation as an employer of choice.

Post-Termination: What Happens After Terminating Employee in Missouri?

After terminating an employee in Missouri, several steps should be taken to ensure a smooth transition and compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Here’s what typically happens next:

  • Final Pay and Benefits: Provide the terminated employee with their final paycheck on their next scheduled payday following the termination date. This paycheck should include payment for all hours worked. Inform the employee about the continuation of benefits and provide them with the necessary paperwork to elect continuation coverage if eligible.
  • Return of Company Property: Arrange for the return of any company property in the possession of the terminated employee. Ensure that the process is conducted respectfully and professionally.
  • Communicate with the Remaining Staff: Communicate the departure of the employee to other staff members professionally and respectfully. Avoid disclosing sensitive or confidential information about the termination unless necessary for business reasons and in accordance with company policy.
  • Documentation: Maintain accurate and detailed records of the termination, including the reasons for termination, the termination meeting, communications with the employee, and any arrangements made during the termination process. These records may be important in the event of any legal disputes.
  • Transition of Responsibilities: Plan for the transition of the terminated employee’s responsibilities to other team members or employees. Ensure that critical tasks are covered and that the transition is managed effectively to minimize disruption to business operations.

Legal Considerations During Termination in Missouri

Legal considerations during termination in Missouri encompass various aspects. Here are some key legal considerations for employers to keep in mind during the termination process in Missouri:

  • At-Will Employment Doctrine: Missouri follows at-will employment, which means that employers can generally terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all, as long as it is not illegal. However, employers should be aware of exceptions to at-will employment and ensure that terminations are conducted in compliance with applicable laws and contractual obligations.
  • Discrimination Laws: Employers in Missouri must comply with state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment based on protected characteristics. Terminations should not be based on discriminatory motives, and employers should document legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for termination.
  • Retaliation Protections: Missouri law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for engaging in protected activities, such as reporting discrimination or harassment, filing a complaint with a government agency, or participating in an investigation.
  • Final Pay and Benefits: Missouri law requires employers to provide terminated employees with their final paycheck on their next regularly scheduled payday following the termination. Employers should also comply with any applicable requirements regarding benefits continuation, such as COBRA coverage.
  • Notice Requirements: While Missouri law generally does not require employers to provide advance notice of termination, employers should be aware of any contractual obligations or company policies regarding notice periods for termination. Providing advance notice can be a professional courtesy and may be required under certain circumstances or for certain categories of employees.
  • Documentation and Recordkeeping: Employers should maintain accurate and detailed records of the termination process, including documentation of the reasons for termination, communications with the employee, and any agreements or arrangements made. Good documentation can help protect the employer in case of legal disputes or challenges.

Bonus: Best Practices for Reducing Litigation Risks in Missouri

Reducing litigation risks in Missouri involves implementing fair employment practices, fostering a positive work environment, and ensuring compliance with state and federal laws. Here are some of the best practices to help minimize the risk of employment-related litigation:

  • Develop Comprehensive Employment Policies: Develop clear, comprehensive, and up-to-date employment policies and procedures that outline expectations for employee conduct and performance.
  • Consistent Enforcement of Company Policies: Employers must enforce employment policies consistently for all employees to avoid claims of discrimination.
  • Maintain Accurate Documentation: Employers must maintain accurate and thorough documentation of employees’s performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, complaints, investigations, and any other interactions related to employment matters. Thorough documentation may serve as evidence in the event of litigation.
  • Promptly Address Employee Concerns: Employers should take all employee concerns seriously, and they must be addressed promptly.
  • Review and Update Employment Contracts Regularly: Review and update employment contracts, non-compete or non-disclosure agreements, and other employment-related contracts to ensure the agreements are legally enforceable and compliant with the current laws and regulations.
  • Fair Compensation Practices: Employers must ensure that Missouri minimum wage laws, overtime laws, and other wage and hour regulations are complied with.
  • Proper Classification of Workers: Employers must classify workers properly based on their job duties and the nature of their relationship with the company (e.g., employees or independent contractors). Misclassification of employees leads to legal challenges and penalties.
  • Address Termination Issues Carefully: Follow established termination procedures to ensure that terminations are supported by documented evidence. Employers should provide terminated employees with clear information about their rights and entitlements.
  • Regular Compliance Audits: Employers should conduct regular audits of employment practices, policies, and procedures to identify areas of potential risks or non-compliance. This helps employers address any deficiencies promptly and implement corrective actions as needed.

Final Thoughts

Firing an employee in Missouri is a crucial step that affects both workers and employers. Hence, understanding the termination laws in Missouri helps employers navigate the process effectively and legally. For employers in Missouri, familiarizing themselves with these laws and implementing the best practices helps mitigate legal risks, promote fairness and equity in the workplace, and maintain positive employee relations.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.