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Midterm Elections Bring Big Changes for Missouri Employers

By Michael S. Powers - McMahon Berger, PC

November 7, 2018

Missouri voters took to the polls Tuesday, voting out long term Senator Claire McCaskill and voting in major changes to the employment landscape by approving measures for both minimum wage increases and medical marijuana.

Missouri’s minimum wage increase, which was on the ballot as Proposition B, will increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.85 an hour to $12 an hour by 2023.  Here’s how it works.  Beginning in 2019, Missouri’s minimum wage will increase to $8.60 an hour.  That immediate $.75 an hour increase will have a dramatic impact for many Missouri employers.  After that, the minimum wage will increase to $9.45 in 2020, to $10.30 in 2021, to $11.15 in 2022, and finally to $12.00 in 2023.

Additionally, the penalty for underpayment will increase under the new law.  The penalty for paying an employee less than the minimum wage had been to pay the employee the full amount of underpayment plus an equal amount as liquidated damages.  Now the penalty will be the full amount of underpayment and an additional amount equal to twice the underpayment as liquidated damages.

The measure was approved by a margin of nearly 62 percent to 38 percent.  The result marks something of a trend as neighboring Arkansas approved an increase to $11.00 by 2021.  So while Missouri’s increases are scheduled to be greater overall, Arkansas’ minimum wage increases will occur at a slightly quicker pace.  For comparison, Illinois minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour, though Chicago’s minimum wage will increase to $13.00 in July of 2019.  Already, groups in other states, such as Louisiana, are seeking to use the results in Missouri and Arkansas to support efforts to raise those states’ minimum wages.

Missouri voters also voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to permit medical marijuana in the state.  Voters were presented with three potential and somewhat confusing options for permitting medical marijuana – constitutional Amendment 2 and Amendment 3, and Proposition C.  Voters had the option to vote for or against each of those three options, which presented differences in taxation and administration.

Ultimately voters approved Amendment 2 by an almost 2 to 1 margin. Amendment 2 calls for a 4% tax on marijuana sales and is projected to generate $14 million to fund veterans’ healthcare as well as $6 million for local governments through taxation and fees.  The law allows patients to grow up to six marijuana plants, and caretakers to grow up to eighteen plants.

From a practical standpoint, it may be some time before any patients are able to legally use medical marijuana in Missouri.  The law theoretically takes effect on December 7, 2018; however, there are many logistical concerns that will need to be worked out before any legal marijuana is sold in this state.  The state will have to develop protocols and procedures for both sales of marijuana and for home growing of marijuana plants.  There are expected to be a number of licensure issues as well, as physicians, patients and growers are all expected to have to apply for proper licenses.  Proponents of the measure anticipate it will take over a year before legal medical use actually occurs.

From an employer perspective medical marijuana raises a number of questions in the workplace, in such diverse areas as workplace safety and the intersection of marijuana and disability law.  This is an issue we will revisit in more depth in the weeks to come.  It is also an area in which we are able to look to other states for guidance, as thirty-two states now allow medical marijuana use or both medical and recreational use.  On the same day that Missouri approved medical marijuana use, Michigan became the first Midwestern state to approve recreational use, becoming the tenth state in the U.S. to do so.  Stay tuned for further discussion on this important and timely issue.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for over sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others.  As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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