By MICHAEL C. GOLDBERG
Because Missouri and Illinois are “hire and fire at will” states, an employer can release you for the flimsiest of reasons, such as not liking your hair. For most people, being fired is a final decision and can’t be appealed.
However, union employees have a secret weapon: they have their union contract to protect them from deceptive firing practices.
In general, union contracts protect workers from being fired for unfounded or ridiculous reasons. But all contracts aren’t created equally. It’s important to check with your union representatives to determine what your rights are to appeal your termination under your grievance plan if you believe you’ve been fired unfairly.
Missouri and Illinois also prohibit firing based on age, sex, race or religion.
Protections are also given to those with a recognized disability. If you believe you were terminated because of one (or more) of these protected classes and/or a disability, you have the right to file charges with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR), the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Center (EEOC).
But don’t delay in filing charges if you feel you have a case.
While the filing deadlines are generous, 180 days for the MCHR, 300 days for IDHR and 300 days for the EEOC, if you miss these deadlines, you waive the right to your claim. The start date of your claim is typically your termination date. It’s better to file your claim early to get the process in motion than wait until the last minute—or worse—miss the deadline completely.
If you file a claim with the MCHR, IDHR and/or the EEOC, the burden of proof that you were fired in violation of one or more protections rests with you.
Providing witnesses to the firing and presenting a paper trail documenting comments, threats, or insinuations will help bolster your case. Understand, though, that these cases can be difficult to win.
• It’s also illegal to fire someone for filing a workers’ compensation claim in Missouri and Illinois.
This doesn’t mean that if you have a pending workers’ comp claim and are fired that you’re protected. Employers can still fire for cause despite a pending claim. If you believe you were fired because of a claim you filed, you will have to prove the filing was a motivating factor.
• Finally, getting hurt to avoid being fired isn’t a good strategy.
If you violated safety rules or were on probation for other issues prior to your injury, and you were fired after your injury, it’s unlikely you’ll have grounds for an appeal. The injury and the workers’ comp filing must be the reason you were fired. If you were already under scrutiny for other violations, which were cited by your employer, you won’t get your job back.
The bottom line is this.
If you’re fired, know your rights for appeal by discussing contract and grievance terms with your union representatives. Document everything to help your case and ask witnesses to step forward to speak on your behalf.
The more information you have, the better your chances are to successfully navigate the grievance process or your outside legal options.
(Michael Goldberg is the principle attorney at Michael C. Goldberg Law, L.L.C. His firm focuses on workers’ compensation, civil litigation and labor law. Mike’s also a member of CWA Local 6300. Contact him at (314) 824-0350, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website.