When lawyers advise on federal law, they frequently conclude with a warning to check state or local law for additional requirements. This probably strikes most readers as boilerplate. It is a warning that is probably ignored as often as it is followed.
However, it is a warning that should be heeded. Take the state of Missouri, for example. This is not a state that most observers would identify as hostile to employers, or as a hotbed of judicial activism.
But did you know that Missouri has a broad-based, public policy exception to at-will employment? In a trio of decisions handed down in 2010, the Missouri Supreme Court expansively held that an employer can be liable for terminating an employee for reasons contrary to public policy. See Fleshner v. Pepose Vision Inst., P.C., 304 S.W.3d 81 (Mo. 2010); Margiotta v. Christian Hosp. Ne. Nw., 315 S.W.3d 342 (Mo. 2010); Keveney v. Missouri Military Acad., 304 S.W.3d 98 (Mo. 2010).
To determine what constitutes “public policy” in the state of Missouri, the Court authorized lower tribunals to undertake a searching review of statutes, constitutional provisions, regulations, judicial decisions, practices of government officials, and even professional codes of ethics.
Similarly, Missouri’s analogue to Title VII, the Missouri Human Rights Act, offers broader anti-retaliation provisions than found under federal law. Whereas Title VII generally makes actionable retaliatory acts that amount to adverse employment actions (rather than trivial annoyances at work), the MHRA makes actionable almost any retaliatory act. See Keeney v. Hereford Concrete Prods., Inc., 911 S.W.2d 622 (Mo. 1995) (en banc).
These are just two examples, from a single state, but they suffice to show that employers should check state and local laws … .