Involuntary Terminations: Kansas
Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.
Authors: Alan L. Rupe and Daniel Press, Kutak Rock LLP
- Where a verbal contract or the terms of an employee handbook or policy manual have created an employment contract, Kansas employees may then only be terminated for cause. However, there is no universal definition of cause in the state of Kansas. See Termination for Cause.
- Certain types of Kansas employers may retain a property interest in their continued employment, meaning that they cannot be separated from their occupations without good cause. See Termination for Cause.
- Kansas does not have its own version of the federal WARN Act, but does require employers to comply with a statute that protects a specific category of workers in the process of completing a layoff, reduction in force or plant closing. See Layoffs, Reductions in Force and Plant Closings.
- Kansas employers are prohibited from terminating employees in retaliation for qualified whistleblowing activities, but employees must meet a high burden of proof to be successful on such claims. See Whistleblower Protections.
- The maximum weekly benefit for unemployment claims is determined based on the date when the claim was filed. See Calculating Unemployment Payments.
Termination for Cause
Kansas employees who can successfully demonstrate the existence of an implied or express contractual employment relationship may only be discharged in accordance with the terms of the contract or, where the contract was implied, if the employer can demonstrate sufficient cause for termination. Contract employees should not be discharged for unlawful reasons or for arbitrary reasons. Otherwise, Kansas employers may invite costly and time consuming litigation.
Public employees are considered to have a property interest in their continued employment, bolstered by the Due Process Claus of the United States Constitution. "[A]n employee may possess a property interest in public employment [for example] if she has tenure, a contract for a fixed term, an implied promise of continued employment, or if state law allows dismissal only for cause or its equivalent." However, public employees that are at-will do not have a protected property interest and therefore, the employer will not have to provide such employees the same procedural and substantive due process protections afforded those with a property interest. Darr v. Telluride, +495 F.3d 1243 (10th Cir. 2007).
Layoffs, Reductions in Force and Plant Closings
Kansas law affords additional protection to ex-servicemen or their widows and orphans working for the state, city or local government. Thus, public employers who are conducting layoffs, reductions in force or plant closings, shall retain those persons who may be equally qualified who have been honorably discharged from the military or naval service and their widows or orphans. +KSA § 72-203.
Kansas employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who engage in certain qualified whistleblowing activities. However, the plaintiffs bear a heavy burden in advancing these causes of action.
Specifically, an employee must demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence that a reasonably prudent person would have similarly concluded that the accused individual(s) engaged in activities that violated the rules, regulations or laws pertaining to public health, safety or general welfare. Further, employees must demonstrate that the employer had knowledge of the plaintiff employee's report of such activity prior to the termination and that the employee was discharged in retaliation for making the report. Palmer v. Brown, +752 P.2d 685 (1988).
In Lykins v. Certainteed Corporation, +2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161353 (D. Ks. 2012), a federal court applying Kansas law addressed a claim for whistleblower retaliation against an employee who claimed he was terminated for opposing the employer's unlawful environmental practices. Specifically, the employee alleged that the employer had been circulating polluted waste water and that it engaged in improper storage and handling of dangerous chemicals.
In denying the claim, the court found that the employee had failed to articulate any specific or definite rules or regulations which the employer's conduct would have violated, if true. Rather, he based his allegations of unlawful activity on his "impressions" and "going on his gut."
Additionally, the employee failed to demonstrate that he "blew the whistle" to any supervisory employees other than the actual employees alleged to have engaged in the unlawful activity. He did not report the alleged unlawful activity up the chain of command or to an outside regulatory agency. The court specific that so-called "internal whistleblowing" is only sufficient if the activity is reported to a "management entity higher than the wrongdoer."
Calculating Unemployment Payments
For initial unemployment claims effective on or after July 1, 2015, the maximum weekly benefit amount is determined by calculating 55 percent of the average weekly wages paid to employees in insured work during the previous calendar year. +K.S.A. § 44-704.
For more information on unemployment insurance in Kansas, see Unemployment Insurance: Kansas.
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