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The Missouri Court of Appeals recently noted that while cognizant of an employer facing  challenging situations in our modern workforce, an employer must not demand as a condition of continued employment that an employee act contrary to her physical safety by withdrawing and terminating a valid full order of protection against a co-worker.

Order of protection issued

The Court admitted to facing a unique set of acts, arising at a health care facility.  There, a female floor nurse and a male co-worker were in a romantic relationship.  However, the male employee assaulted the nurse in her home and was arrested.  Subsequently, a trial court entered a full order of protection which prohibited the male employee from entering the nurse’s place of employment while she was present.

Subsequent to the court hearing, the employer promoted the male employee as its assistant director of nursing, with direct supervision over the floor nurse.  She presented the Order of Protection to her employer and requested that an action plan be implemented to prevent interaction between the two.

A nurse compliance officer then twice requested that the floor nurse withdraw her Order of Protection, and would not place the nurse on work schedule until she did so.  The nurse left her position and brought a claim for wrongful discharge.

Public policy exception to at-will doctrine

The Court noted that employers may terminate the employment of at-will employees at any time “for any reason or for no reason.  However, an employer’s rights are not unfettered, and Missouri has recognized that an employer may not terminate an at-will employee where the termination would violate a clear mandate of public policy.  The public policy exception prevents employers from terminating at-will employees “for doing that which is beneficial to society.”

Further, the Court held that Missouri’s Adult Abuse Act (the MAAA) reflects a clear public-policy mandate to ensure the safety of victims of domestic violence and to prevent further abuses by enabling and encouraging victims to obtain orders of protections through the courts.

Thus, it concluded that the employer’s demand that the floor nurse withdraw her full order of protection to keep her job violated this public policy and thus supported her claim for wrongful discharge.