Over the summer, the Missouri legislature took action to invalidate or cut back two ordinances passed by the city of St. Louis, causing the city’s minimum wage to revert to the statewide minimum of $7.70 per hour and making it unlawful for cities to adopt laws that would interfere with the free-speech rights of any “alternative to abortion agency” (e.g., a pregnancy resource center) or employees with objections to abortion.
In May, the Missouri legislature passed a bill banning cities from adopting minimum wage rates in excess of the state’s minimum wage. Gov. Eric Greitens took no action on the bill before a constitutional deadline, allowing it to automatically take effect. As a result, the city’s minimum wage returned to $7.70 per hour on Aug. 28, 2017, after having been set at $10 per hour when the city’s ordinance setting its own minimum wage was found valid by a Missouri court. Opponents and proponents of the minimum wage increase have clashed since the ordinance was signed by then-Mayor Francis Slay over two years ago. The Missouri Supreme Court eventually decided that the city was within its authority to set a minimum wage higher than the state’s. The state bill now supersedes that determination and will also affect Kansas City, which recently passed an ordinance that increased its minimum wage.
Employers in St. Louis and Kansas City that have raised their wage rates to comply with the municipal minimums may voluntarily continue paying those higher rates. However, employers who choose to reduce rates in light of the state bill should be aware that Missouri law requires companies to give employees 30 days’ notice of any reduction in wages.
Reproductive Care Nondiscrimination
Earlier this year, St. Louis adopted an ordinance that protected employees against discrimination on the basis of their “reproductive health decisions,” making it unlawful for employers to take adverse employment actions against individuals due to their use of drugs or medical services related to reproductive health, including contraceptives and abortion. On July 26, 2017, Greitens signed into law a bill that will likely curb those protections by prohibiting municipalities from passing ordinances that would restrict the free speech rights of alternatives to abortion agencies or require individuals to act against their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. The bill also included a variety of other measures modifying the state’s abortion statute unrelated to the nondiscrimination provision.
After the city adopted its ordinance, several employers filed suit against the city, alleging that the ordinance violated the Constitution. Specifically, the businesses argued that the ordinance fails to provide exemptions for individuals with “sincere religious, moral or ethical objections to abortion” or for any non-religious organization whose purpose is to provide alternatives to abortion. That litigation is ongoing.
Employers should keep in mind that any employment decision should be based upon a legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale regardless of an employee’s protected characteristics.