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melissamesq, Attorney
Category: California Employment Law
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Experience:  Represent clients to maximum recovery in employment cases.
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I know that Missouri is an "at will" state and employers can

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I know that Missouri is an "at will" state and employers can fire you for any reason at any time. Can an employee sue for working in a "hostile work environment"?

Welcome! I am here to educate and help you. Please positively rate my answers, including follow ups, so that I may get credit for my work. Thank you!

Hello and thank you for contacting JA. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I will be answering your legal question this late evening/early morning. Be assured that I am a practicing employment lawyer in CA & MO. My goal here is to provide you with legal information and insight in to your question.

I am very sorry to hear that your employer is treating you so badly. I understand how frustrating and uncomfortable it is to work for an employer who does not appear to respect or appreciate your skills and services. No one deserves to deal with that kind of treatment in the workplace while he or she is simply trying to do a job. You are correct in stating that MO is an at will employment state, unless you are a government employee, union employee, or you have an employment contract which defines the scope and terms of your job duties with the employer. These three categories of employees have a slightly different standard than traditional at will employee, which is the most common type of employment in MO and the US in general. It appears that you are an at will employee, which means that your employer can take any kind of adverse employment action against you, such as demotion or termination, for any reason, or no reason at all, so long as it is not an unlawful reason.

You ask if an at will employee can sue for hostile work environment, which I will legally define in a moment. The facts you cite to support such an environment include managers arranging/creating workloads in a manner that is difficult, or even impracticable, to keep organized, and charging you [unfairly] with the inability to multi task. In other words, it appears that you perceive your managers to be deliberately frustrating and thwarting your ability to do your job by manipulating your workload, and expecting you to 'multitask,' which basically means to do several competing tasks at once. I absolutely agree and understand that such an environment is unfair, but that begs the question of whether it is a legally hostile environment.

Unfortunately, the term 'hostile workplace' has become overused, and therefore misused, in modern conversation. By law, a hostile work environment arises from one of the following scenarios: 1) sexual harassment that is pervasive and hostile, meaning repeated, severe, and unwanted, or a quid pro quo sexual demand that results in adverse employment action if declined/rejected by the employee, OR 2) harassment based on legally protected class status, such as race, gender, age, disability, etc. This type of harassment occurs when you are not specifically or directly being discriminated against because of your protected class status, but instead are exposed to a manager/employer's repeated disparaging comments about a protected class. For example, if you are a female employee and your male managers do not directly discriminate against you for being female, but make repeated derogatory comments about women in general. Your claim would be for hostile workplace environment in the form of harassment, instead of discrimination.

I won't bog you down with an extensive discussion of the law, but I think it is important to understand what hostile work environment means under the law.

It is my goal to help my customers understand the law as it relates to their facts, and to provide all relevant information. In your case, please understand that if the facts are simply as you stated them above, that your managers are manipulating your workload and unfairly accusing you of failing to multitask, those claims alone will be insufficient to give rise to a legal claim, or any legal recourse, for hostile work environment. Moreover, if you quit before you find another job, you will not qualify for unemployment in MO, because the legal standard is that you must be out of work because of no fault of your own. I understand that you may wish to pursue the argument that you were constructively discharged/terminated based on your managers' treatment, but the absence of legal hostile work environment will make this more of a management issue, than a legal issue. Please consider that if you are terminated for alleged failure to multitask, you will most assuredly be eligible for unemployment, but you will not be eligible if you quit on these facts.

With that said, I want to clarify that you may have legal recourse IF the reason for the adverse treatment by your managers is due to your protected class status. In other words, if you reasonably believe and can prove that your managers are treating you differently than similarly situated employees because of your race, gender, age, disability, etc., than you may, in fact, have a claim for disparate treatment discrimination, as opposed to hostile work environment. If this is the case, you should consider notifying your HR immediately to see what your employer will do in response. If it ratifies the managers' conduct, then you will be easily able to prove that your employer knew about, and condoned, the discriminatory treatment. You may make a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) shortly after notifying HR and giving them a chance to remedy the mistreatment. You do not need to wait until you are terminated to make a claim, because of time limitations for filing complaints. Here is a link to the federal EEOC, which administers federal laws on discrimination and harassment:

Please bear in mind that you must generally make the complaint to the EEOC no later than 180 days from the date the disparate treatment discrimination began. You do not need an attorney to file the initial complaint with the EEOC because the agency will investigate your claims on your behalf, but if you have strong evidence to show that your managers are treating you differently [negatively and poorly] because of your race, age, gender, disability, etc., then you would want to retain a local employment law attorney who handles discrimination cases on contingency. That person will obtain a right to sue notice from the EEOC, which would enable a private lawsuit.

I sure hope I have provided you with some legal options and perspective on this situation. I am sincerely XXXXX XXXXX you are dealing with this, and I wish you the very best in 2012 and beyond. If you have a follow up, please click reply to expert and I will respond again.

I only ask that you kindly rate me positively, otherwise I will not receive any credit for my work. Thank you and take care.


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