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Discipline and termination

State procedures
Are there state-specific laws on the procedures employers must follow with regard to discipline and grievance procedures?

Montana has no law governing private employers with regard to discipline and grievance procedures. However, employers should be mindful of Montana’s Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act, which negates the employment-at-will relationship after the employee completes a probationary period (39-2-904, MCA). Because “good cause" under the act is defined as reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, disruption of the employer's operation, or other legitimate business reason (39-2-903, MCA), employers should diligently document any deficiencies in job performance, violations of company policies, or employee misconduct. If an employer maintains a written grievance procedure under which an employee may appeal a discharge within the organizational structure of the employer, and the employer provides the employee with a copy of the internal grievance procedure within seven days of the date of the discharge, it is a complete defense to a wrongful discharge claim if the employee fails to utilize the procedure.

At-will or notice
At-will status and/or notice period?

Montana is the only state in the United States that does not follow an employment-at-will doctrine. Under Montana’s Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act, a discharge is wrongful only if:

  • it was in retaliation for the employee's refusal to violate public policy or for reporting a violation of public policy; 
  • the discharge was not for good cause and the employee had completed the employer's probationary period of employment; or 
  • the employer violated the express provisions of its own written personnel policy. 
     

During a probationary period, employment may be terminated at the will of either the employer or the employee on notice to the other for any reason or for no reason. If an employer does not establish a specific probationary period or provide that there is no probationary period before or at the time of hire, there is a six-month probationary period from the date of hire (39-2-904, MCA).

“Good cause" is defined as reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on a failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, disruption of the employer's operation, or other legitimate business reason (39-2-903, MCA).

The act does not apply to a discharge of an employee covered by a written collective bargaining agreement or a written contract of employment for a specific term, or when the discharge is subject to any other state or federal statute that provides a procedure or remedy for contesting the dispute, such as anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation statutes (39-2-912, MCA).

Claims under the act for wrongful discharge must be brought within one year of the date of discharge. If the employer maintains written internal procedures that allow an employee to appeal a discharge, the employee must first exhaust those internal procedures (39-2-911, MCA).

What restrictions apply to the above?

Montana is the only state in the United States that does not follow an employment-at-will doctrine. Under Montana’s Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act, employees who have completed their probationary period can be terminated only for “good cause.” “Good cause” is defined as “reasonable job-related grounds” or “other legitimate business reason” (39-2-903(5), MCA).

Montana employers cannot refuse to employ or discriminate against an individual who uses a lawful product off premises during non-working hours (39-2-313, MCA).

Final paychecks
Are there state-specific rules on when final paychecks are due after termination?

When an employee is terminated for cause or laid off, all wages due must be paid immediately, unless the employer has a pre-existing written policy that extends the time for the payment of final wages. Under a written policy, final wages on termination of employment may be delayed until the next payday for the period in which the separation occurred, or delayed by 15 calendar days, whichever occurs first.

When an employee quits or resigns, all wages due must be paid on the next scheduled payday for the period in which the employee was separated, or 15 calendar days later, whichever occurs first.