Associated Industries of Missouri Asks Governor To Sign Work Comp and Employment Law Bills
March 13 – Today, AIM President Ray McCarty sent letters to Governor Nixon asking him to sign two bills that would improve workplace law for employers and employees.
House Bill 1219 protects Missouri’s employers from frivolous discrimination lawsuits. The bill requires plaintiffs to prove that discrimination was the “motivating factor” in the employee’s dismissal, as opposed to today’s standard that simply requires discrimination to be a “contributing factor”. While we agree discrimination should not be tolerated in any amount, an employer is placed in an impossible position of defending themselves against the current low standard. Plaintiffs’ attorneys may argue to a jury that the fact the employer knew the employee was a member of a protected class means that discrimination must have played even a miniscule role in the employment action or dismissal decision. Using the more appropriate federal standard requires the plaintiff to prove the employer acted “because of” discrimination. This is the standard that should be observed in Missouri – the standard used in other states.
If an employer is found guilty of discrimination, current Missouri law allows payment for back pay, attorney fees, court costs, and unlimited punitive damages. The bill caps punitive damages at the amount allowed under federal law, which we believe is appropriate.
Consistent with the core principles of our U.S. legal system, Missouri’s employers should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but over the last ten years, Missouri’s courts have strayed from this legal principle and awarded “whistle blower” status to employees that were alerting authorities to activity that was not illegal, resulting in costly judgments against employers. House Bill 1219 would ensure persons claiming “whistle blower” protection under the law are truly alerting authorities to a potential action by the employer that violates a statute, regulation or public policy. Current law, as interpreted by the courts, allows “whistle blower” status to employees even if the employer was not contemplating an action that violates law, regulation or public policy. We believe this change is vital to protect employers from frivolous “whistle blower” claims.
Senate Bill 572 will help protect employees that accidentally injure another employee in the regular course of performing their work. Recent court decisions have allowed employees to be sued for accidental injuries to another employee. When such injuries occur as an employee is simply doing their job, employees should be protected and the injured employee should be able to seek relief under the worker’s compensation law. Recent interpretations of the law have left employees defenseless against these claims and this bill corrects this misinterpretation of the law by the courts. Employees that are not acting in the regular course of their employment and injure other employees would continue to be liable for injuries they cause other employees.
The bill will also protect employees that acquire occupational diseases, including repetitive motion diseases like carpal tunnel syndrome. The bill will allow employees to receive quick medical attention and return those employees to work as soon as possible. Courts have recently held that occupational diseases are not covered under the worker’s compensation law and this bill restores protection for employees under that law. The bill denies employers the right to subrogation against awards from third parties when an employee receives a judgment against the maker of a toxic substance that causes an occupational disease. Because occupational diseases are not covered under current worker’s compensation statutes, current law requires employees to prove the employer was at fault for the occupational disease. Restoring protection to employees under the worker’s compensation law relieves employees of this burden.