The Missouri Supreme Court has issued a decision that significantly lowers the burden of proof for employee claims of workers’ compensation retaliation under the law. Under the new standard announced in Templemire v. W&M Welding, Inc. issued on April 15, 2014, the employee need only prove that filing such a claim was a “contributing factor” in the employment decision. To prevail under the previous standard, an employee was required to prove that filing a workers’ compensation claim was the “exclusive” reason for his/her discharge or other adverse action by the employer.
This decision, which overrules 30 years of Missouri court decisions that applied the exclusive causation requirement, makes it substantially easier for employees to prevail on claims of workers’ compensation retaliation. However, the Court found that nothing in the language of Section 287.780 requires an employee to show exclusive causation. It reasoned that the “contributing factor” standard that applies to claims of discrimination and retaliation under the Missouri Human Rights Act and claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy should apply to workers’ compensation retaliation claims.
The Court rejected the employer’s assertion that lowering the burden of proof would make Section 287.780 a “job security act” because the employer would effectively be prevented from taking adverse action once an employee files a workers compensation claim.
Lowering the burden of proof exposes employers to greater risk of liability when taking or threatening to take adverse action against an employee who has filed a workers’ compensation claim. Even in situations where the employer has a legitimate reason for discharge, such as insubordination, the employee will argue that the decision was motivated, at least in part, by the fact that he or she filed a workers’ compensation claim.
In short, it is important that you train your managers and supervisors not to retaliate in any way against employees exercising their rights under the workers’ compensation laws. Moreover, before terminating or taking other negative employment action against an employee who has filed a workers’ compensation claim, you should ensure that your reasons are well-documented and consider consulting legal counsel to help minimize the risk.