The Missouri Service Letter - What Is It and How to Use It?
March 5, 2022
The Missouri Service Letter statute, found in RSMo. § 290.140, is a useful tool for those left in the dark after an unceremonious termination or dismissal from their employment.
Too often, hardworking individuals find themselves all of a sudden without a job. Many times they don't understand why and when they ask, they are stonewalled by HR. Sitting there wondering what happened can be frustrating. But there's a little-known law in Missouri, called the Service Letter Law, which can shine some light on the real reason you lost your job.
The Service Letter - What is it?
Missouri law provides recently discharged employees the ability to get certain information about their prior employment in writing. A former employer is obligated by law to respond to a Service Letter within 45 days of the day in which they receive the letter.
Specifically, the statute obligates the employer to provide the following information in response:
the nature and character of service rendered (i.e. what were the job and the job duties) by such employee to such corporation,
the duration of such service (i.e. how long did the employee work for the employer),
and truly stating for what cause (i.e. the reason), if any, such employee was discharged (fired\laid off\downsized) or voluntarily quit such service.
How Do You Send a Service Letter?
The Service Letter is no good to you if you don't know how to properly send it. Luckily, the statute lays out easy to follow instructions.
The first thing to do is to not waste any time. The statute states that a former employee must send the letter "within a reasonable period of time". What does this mean?
How long a "reasonable period of time" is determined on a case-by-case basis. Typically, a letter sent with one year satisfies the timeliness requirement. However, it is best practice to send this letter within 60 days of your discharge.
The longer you wait to send a Service Letter, the more you risk a Court ruling that you took too long. If you wait longer than one year, then you lose the ability to enforce the provisions of the Service Letter statute.
In Writing by Certified Mail
The statute requires that you issue your Service Letter request in writing and by Certified Mail.
An email is insufficient. As is a telephone call or conversation with your former employer's HR department.
Best practice is to not only send a letter by Certified Mail but to request a Return Receipt as well.
Who do You Send the Letter to?
Once again, the answer is in the Service Letter Law. To properly take advantage of the Service Letter Law, you must address the request to the superintendent, manager, or registered agent of your former employer.
Reference the Service Letter Statute
You must specifically reference RSMo. § 290.140 in your letter in order to trigger your former employer's obligation to respond.
Can Anyone Send the Service Letter?
Short answer is no, this tool is not available to just anyone who has been recently discharged from their employment.
The statute only applies to covered business entities, which are those employers in this state who employ seven or more employees. This excludes many smaller business, such as Dentist Practices that often only have 5 or fewer employees.
Minimum of 90 Days Employment
Additionally, for the Service Letter Law to apply to your employment you must have been an employee of your former employer for a minimum of ninety days.