Missouri Lightens Burden of Proof Requirements in Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Claims

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In a recent decision, the Missouri Supreme Court has significantly lowered the burden of proof needed in workers’ compensation retaliation cases. The decision comes as a huge win for injured workers who were terminated as a result of their workers’ comp claims, allowing them to recoup their medical expenses more easily, which, in the past 10 years, have become 48% more expensive.

Under the previous standard, an employee had to prove that filing a workers’ compensation claim was the “exclusive” reason the employer made an adverse action, such as termination. Now under this new ruling, an employee needs only to prove that filing a workers’ compensation claim was “contributing factor” in the employer’s decision.

Under the previous standard, an employee had to prove that filing a workers' compensation claim was the "exclusive" reason the employer made an adverse action, such as termination.
Under the previous standard, an employee had to prove that filing a workers’ compensation claim was the “exclusive” reason the employer made an adverse action, such as termination.

The decision represents a marked change in the proceedings of retaliatory discharge cases, as this new burden of proof standard is much lighter, and increases workers’ odds of bringing a successful claim.

What’s more, this decision continues the current national trend of lightening the burden of proof. In Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, another relatively recent decision, the court decided that the Missouri Human Rights Act would be violated if discriminatory intent played even a mere “contributing factor however slight” in the discharge of an employee or in any other negative action against an employee.

In subsequent years, courts have followed the example set forth by Daughtery, imposing the “contributing factor” standard in both public policy discharge cases and in retaliation cases. Now that it’s being applied to workers’ compensation retaliation cases, the “contributing factor” burden of proof will govern all common forms of employee versus employer litigation.

With this decision on the books, it’s important for employers to carefully review with their legal counsel any and all adverse actions being contemplated in regards to workers claiming workers’ compensation.

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