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Are You Being Sued For Wrongful Termination

Businesses can face a plethora of challenges on a daily basis.  A terrifying prospect can be when an employee is let go and then turns around and claims the termination was unjust.  A wrongful termination suit can be lengthy and very costly for a company.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Florida is an at-will state, which means an employer may fire, demote, hire, promote, and discipline employees for many different reasons or no reason at all.  However, wrongful termination refers to being terminated for an illegal reason.  Some common examples of illegal reasons include, but may not be limited to:

A)  Breach of Contract:  This applies if the employee works under a contract.

B)  Discrimination:  This applies if the employee is terminated because of race, age, sex, religion, pregnancy, marital status, or disability.

C)  Refusal to participate in discrimination.

D)  Making a worker’s compensation claim.

E)  For being owed wages or overtime pay.

F)  Testifying against an employer when required by law.

G)  Taking leave for bereavement, illness, or disability.

Most often wrongful termination occurs as retaliation for something that an employee has done and not because of discrimination ( i.e. reporting a workplace injury or sexual harassment).

What Does At-Will Employment Mean?

At-will employment law is common in the U.S.  In fact, all fifty states have an at-will policy.  At-will means that the employed party may leave their job at any time without advance notice.  Likewise, the employer may fire the employee at any time without advance notice.

However, 42 of the 50 states have an exception stating that an employee may not be fired if the worker’s termination would violate the state’s public policy doctrine, or a state or federal statute.  Florida is among the eight states that have exceptions to this rule.

In Florida, three limited conditions that can override an at-will agreement are as follows:

1)  If the employee has disclosed or threatened to disclose activity, policy, or the employers’ practice that is in violation of a rule, law. or regulation.

2)  If the employee has provided information to a government agency or testified before them against the employer.

3)  If the employee objected to or refused to participate in any activity that the employer asked them to that may have violated a law, rule, or regulation.

In these three cases, the employer is not legally allowed to take any retaliatory action against the employee, including terminating them.

Some people confuse “at-will” with “right-to-work,” which has nothing to do with wrongful termination.  Right-to-work means that employees may not be forced to join a union to work at a particular job.

How is Wrongful Termination Proven?

To prove wrongful termination, the fired employee usually has to show that the employer’s stated reason for the termination was false and that the discharge was for an illegal reason.  An employee will need to prove that the manager/employer acted with illegal motives, which can be a difficult, but not impossible task.

Some pieces of evidence that can advance a wrongful termination claim include:

A)  Statements made by supervisors

B)  Emails about particular employees

C)  Whether supervisors knew that the employee was engaging in legally protected activity, and

D)  A history of letting workers go after they do similar things

Well-founded evidence exists in the temporal proximity between the protected activity and the termination.  If just a few days have passed since the employee exercised his/her rights and their termination, it is a strong sign that the discharge was wrongful.

After Termination

Florida laws on terminating employees require the employers to do a few things after you have let a worker go.  While an employer does not have to pay a fired employee’s outstanding wages immediately, they do need to make sure they pay the employee what they are owed by the next regular payday.  Also if you have 20 or more employees and offer optional group healthcare coverage, you must allow the employee to maintain their coverage for up to 18 months following termination.  This rule is governed by the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly known as COBRA.

The employee will be able to apply for unemployment benefits after they are fired unless they were terminated for malicious conduct.  While unemployment benefits will not pose an immediate cost to the employer, their Florida reemployment tax rate is affected over time by the number of benefits paid out by their former employees.

Does an employer have to explain to an employee why they are being fired?

Under Florida law, you do not have to provide a reason for firing an employee, as long as the reason for terminating them was not discriminatory.

I Can Help You Comply With Florida Termination Laws

I’m Rob Robinson and I have spent the better part of 30 years practicing labor and employment law for both private and public employers in Southwest Florida. While terminating an employee can be a straightforward process in most cases, if you face issues of possible discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract, or military leave, Florida laws on firing employees can quickly become complex.  Please contact my law office and let my experience guide you through the process to save you time and valuable resources.

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