Is Missouri a Right to Work State?

FT Contributor  | 

Twenty-seven states and Guam have enacted “right-to-work” laws under Section 14(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). If you are a resident of Missouri or are considering moving there, use this guide to understand if right to work laws apply in Missouri and how other state labor laws affect you.

What Is Right to Work?

States with right-to-work laws technically ban union security agreements. In other words, an employee in a workplace does not need to join an associated union and pay dues if they do not wish to.

Right-to-work laws prohibit compulsory union membership as a condition of employment. Forced union membership is already illegal under federal law, but what companies can do in non-right-to-work states, if they have entered an agreement with a labor union, is require employees to pay agency fees to a union even if they are not technically members. Unions are required to represent everyone in their bargaining units, so these fees exist for individuals who benefit from a union’s work but do not pay dues.

Collective bargaining agreements that unions negotiate with employers protect all workers, whether they participate in the union or not. It is important to note that in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that states and public-sector unions cannot require employees to pay agency fees. This ruling, essentially, makes every state a right-to-work state when it comes to the public sector.

At-Will Employment

The term “at-will employment” means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, at any time, if there is no contract dictating employment terms. Of course, employers cannot fire employees for illegal reasons, including discrimination based on race, color, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability status, or age. Otherwise, employers can fire employees for non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory reasons.

The law presumes that you work at will if you do not have a contract stating otherwise. Proving that you do not or did not work at will requires documents related to your employment or clear oral statements your employer has made indicating that they only fire employees with good cause to do so.

At-will employment and right to work refer to different laws. Right to work prohibits employers from firing or refusing to hire employees for deciding not to join a union. Individual employers can enforce at-will employment policies that allow them to terminate any worker’s employment without an illegal cause.

Is Missouri a Right-to-Work State?

Missouri is not a right-to-work state. Kentucky became the most recent state to enact right-to-work laws in January 2017.

When Can You Get Fired in Missouri?

As mentioned previously, employers cannot fire their employees for discriminatory reasons. They can, however, fire employees for:

  • Being late to work;
  • Performing poorly;
  • Violating company rules.

Fortunately, there are additional circumstances under which employees cannot get fired thanks to Missouri’s public policy exception:

  • You can’t get fired for refusing to break the law or any other clear and well-established mandate;
  • You can’t get fired for reporting someone else’s wrongdoing.

Other Missouri Labor Laws

If you are a resident of Missouri or are planning to move there, here are additional labor laws to know about:

Missouri Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in Missouri is $9.45 per hour, which is $2.20 higher than the federal minimum wage. However, this minimum does not apply to salaried employees, and retail and service businesses can determine what they pay employees if their adjusted gross average incomes are less than $500,000.

Likewise, tipped employees (such as waitresses and bellhops) and newly hired employees under the age of 20 during their training are only legally entitled to $4.25 per hour. It is also legal to pay full-time high school and some college students in specific positions 85% of the state minimum wage for up to 20 hours of work per week.

Missouri Discrimination and Harassment Law

The Missouri Human Rights Act outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex. Employers cannot discriminate against employees or applicants due to their sex or gender in any form, including during hiring, promotions, compensation, training, termination, or any other aspect of employment.

This law prohibits sexual harassment, which includes behaviors such as physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature, unwelcome advances, and more.

Child Labor Laws

Missouri’s Child Labor Law pertains to youth under the age of 16. Minors aged 13 and under are generally not allowed to work at all unless the job is in the entertainment industry. Teenagers aged 14 and 15 are typically permitted to work, but they (including minors in the entertainment industry) are subject to various restrictions. School sessions, for instance, affect what hours youths are available to work.

Missouri Civil Rights Laws

The Missouri Human Rights Act also forbids discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, disability, ancestry, sex, and age (between the ages of 40 and 69) in any aspect of employment. The law also encompasses retaliation against individuals who are filing a discrimination complaint and discrimination against individuals who associate with another person belonging to a protected class.  

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Missouri does not explicitly dictate that employers must offer pregnancy leave. Still, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights requires employers to provide individuals capable of pregnancy with the same leave provided to employees with temporary disabilities if they are affected by pregnancy and related conditions.

Likewise, the Missouri Human Rights Act forbids employers from discriminating against employees or applicants for being pregnant or having children, which is generally considered sex discrimination.

Unemployment Laws

Individuals eligible for unemployment benefit payments include those who:

  • Lost their job through no fault of their own;
  • Quit for a good cause related to the work itself or the employer;
  • Make at least $2,250 (with specifications regarding when and how).

Regarding the final point, the claimant’s base period wages must also be a minimum of 1.5 times their highest quarter wages, or they must make at least 1.5 times the Taxable Wage Base during two out of four base quarters.

Eligible individuals may receive up to 20 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. Partial unemployment benefits also exist.

Workers’ Compensation Laws

Under Missouri law, most employers must carry insurance that pays for a worker’s medical treatment and lost time benefits if they are injured on the job. These benefits must be paid promptly with no cost to the employee if the individual sustains an injury the law covers.

Missouri is not a right-to-work state, which means that while you cannot be forced to join a union, you may still need to pay some portion of union dues because you benefit from unions’ collective bargaining. Your employment may still be at will, though, so it may be possible for your employer to fire you for other non-discriminatory reasons.


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