There’s a moment in every great movie battle where silence falls across the screen and the audience waits with bated breath. Anticipation builds, then:
“FIRE AT WILL!!!”
But wait! This isn’t so exciting anymore, you just got FIRED from your AT-WILL job last week! Now instead of enjoying the awesome battle scene in front of you, you’re stressed out about work. You didn’t even do anything wrong, can they really just fire you like that?
If you’re looking for answers, you’re in the right place. In the state of Florida, at-will employment and wrongful termination are two separate legal terms with significant implications. It’s important to understand the differences between them, as well as how they affect your rights as an employee—and how to identify if you have been wrongfully terminated. So grab the popcorn and let’s hit “play!”
What is At-Will Employment and Why is it Important?
At-will employment is when either employers or employees can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for almost any reason or no reason at all. This is the default in Florida and most other states. The arrangement can be beneficial to both employers and employees — it offers employers more flexibility when making decisions about personnel and staffing needs and allows employees to resign without fear of legal repercussions. However, the freedom provided by this agreement is a double-edged sword for both sides — employees can find themselves in a difficult position when they are terminated without warning or explanation, and employers can be left in a tight spot when they suddenly become understaffed.
The only exception to this rule would be if a written contract has been signed by both parties specifying the terms of employment. In such cases, the terms of the contract must be honored by both parties, otherwise, one may be held liable for breach of contract. Both employers and employees need to understand their rights and responsibilities under at-will employment laws to ensure everyone is treated fairly and respectfully in the workplace.
What are the Grounds for Wrongful Termination in Florida?
Due to the extensive reach of at-will employment agreements, it can be challenging to claim that you were wrongfully terminated in the state of Florida, however, there are a few grounds to define wrongful termination that you can use to prove your case. Wrongful termination occurs when an employer unlawfully terminates an employment agreement in violation of federal or state law — such as discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, veteran status, marital status, or pregnancy; breaching a written contract; retaliation against an employee who has reported improper conduct, i.e. a whistleblower; terminating someone out of revenge; or termination in violation of public policy.
Discrimination in the workplace is a serious issue that needs to be addressed and resolved. Even though employment in Florida is at-will, employers cannot take any action illegally based on factors such as age, race, gender, disability, religion, pregnancy, veteran status, or marital status. In cases where an employee is wrongfully terminated due to discrimination, the burden of proof often falls upon the employee to prove that their termination was a result of discriminatory practices within the organization. Employers who are found guilty of wrongful termination due to discrimination can face serious consequences, including potential legal action taken by either party and financial restitution paid out to employees to compensate for damages caused by wrongful termination. Employers must provide an equitable work environment for all employees regardless of their background.
Breach of Contract
Wrongful termination due to breach of contract occurs when an employee’s contract is broken without justified cause. A breach of contract can include a failure to adhere to the terms of the agreement or any other violation of the contract. In such cases, an employer may decide to terminate the employment agreement without giving notice or compensation, and this could be considered a wrongful termination. Additionally, if an employer fails to meet the obligations stated in the contract’s terms, they have essentially wrongfully terminated their employee. This kind of unlawful action can have serious consequences for both parties involved, as it leaves an employee with no job and can leave employers facing costly legal fees and/or penalties. Breach of contract wrongful termination can also lead to negative publicity for a company, as well as reputational damage. For this reason, employers should ensure that any contracts set forth are followed strictly to avoid any potential legal issues or bad press.
Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee in response to a legally protected action or behavior. For example, employers cannot wrongfully terminate an employee as retaliation for engaging in a legally protected activity. The list of protected activities in Florida is extensive, including anything from making a worker’s compensation claim to reporting your employer’s illegal practices. If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated in retaliation for the following actions then it is important to seek legal advice immediately to protect your rights and potentially receive damages from your former employer:
- reporting or supporting a coworker’s claims of discrimination
- reporting or refusing to engage in illegal practices directed by your employer
- reporting unsafe facilities or working conditions
- reporting under the Fair Labor Standards Act for unpaid wages or hours
- making a worker’s compensation claim
- taking family or medical leave
- joining a union.
How Can I Protect Myself from Wrongful Termination?
One of the best ways to protect yourself from being wrongfully terminated is to familiarize yourself with your rights as an employee. Knowing the terms and conditions of your employment agreement can help you identify when a breach has occurred, allowing you to take action if necessary. This includes being aware of any non-compete or other contractual obligations you may have outside of what’s written in your official employment offer letter.
Additionally, it is important to be aware of any laws or regulations that protect you from wrongful termination or discrimination in the workplace. Understanding these laws can help you determine whether an employer is acting unlawfully in their decision to terminate your employment.
Finally, maintain documentation of everything. Keep a record of your employee handbook and policies and make note of any inconsistencies between your employer’s stated policies and their actions. Before taking any action that could lead to a potential claim for wrongful termination, such as reporting unethical practices or refusing to comply with an illegal order from your employer, document everything thoroughly. Keep copies of all relevant work documents, emails, texts, and other evidence that could serve as proof of any potential breach of contract or illegal activities on behalf of the company. Having your own paper trail is incredibly helpful in determining cases of wrongful termination in an at-will state.
In cases where discrimination, breach of contract, or retaliatory wrongful termination has occurred, it is important to seek legal representation to ensure that justice is served and all potential damages are sought after. Taking proactive steps such as these can help protect employees from wrongful terminations and ensure they are treated fairly within their workplace.
I Think I Was Wrongfully Terminated — Now What?
After being wrongfully terminated in the state of Florida, there are several steps you should take to protect your rights and best position yourself for potential legal action. First, continue to document everything surrounding your case, including all relevant work documents, emails, texts, and other evidence that could potentially prove your case. Then, reach out to the Human Resources department at your former employer to clarify why your employment has been terminated and request access to personnel records. Take detailed notes to document their responses. Furthermore, it is recommended that you seek legal counsel from an experienced wrongful termination lawyer who can provide advice and help with the process moving forward. If a settlement cannot be reached through negotiations with the company or if your former employer refuses to consider a resolution, then taking them to court may be necessary to receive damages due to the wrongful termination.
Resources to Help You Understand Your Rights
- Florida Department of Economic Opportunity: This website provides information and resources regarding employment laws in the state of Florida.
- Community Legal Services: Free legal advice from professionals in Central Florida to help understand employee rights in the workplace.
- Disability Rights Florida: Provides information on employment discrimination legal rights and protection for individuals with disabilities.
- Employment and Training Administration: An agency within the Department of Labor that provides job training, employment, labor market information, and income maintenance services.
Being terminated can be a harrowing experience, especially in an at-will state like Florida where the employer doesn’t necessarily need a “good” reason to fire you. That’s why it’s essential to know the difference between at-will employment and wrongful termination. If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated in the state of Florida, it is important to take proactive steps to protect your rights and best position yourself for potential legal action. Understanding the relevant laws, statutes, and policies, documenting everything surrounding your case, and seeking counsel from an experienced wrongful termination lawyer are essential steps in the process. If you think you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your position, reach out to éclat Law for a consultation today! Our team of experienced attorneys will help guide you through those steps and ensure that you are getting the compensation and justice you deserve. Contact us today to get started!