The term “wrongful termination” refers to the firing of an employee for an unjust or unlawful reason. For example, any employer who tries to terminate an employee who is under an employment contract can be sued for breach of contract, which is one type of wrongful termination. Most of today’s wrongful termination laws are based around the doctrine of at-will employment, so it is important that employers come to fully understand both areas to avoid being sued for wrongful termination in a court of law.
At-will Employment in Florida
Florida is considered an “at-will employment” state, meaning its employers have the right to terminate employees at any time and for any reason, and they don’t have to give advance notice. Similarly, Florida’s employees may quit a job at any time and for almost any reason, and they also don’t have to give notice of their impending departure. There are, however, some exceptions that exist to the at-will employment concept.
Wrongful Termination in Florida
Though Florida is considered an at-will employment state, there are a number of exceptions to the doctrine. First, Florida employers cannot fire employees for discriminatory reasons or for reasons that infringe on a protected right. For example, they cannot terminate an employee based on religious preference, color, country or origin, disability or race. Second, Florida’s employers cannot terminate employees when employment contracts with definitive terms (beginning and ending dates) are in place. It’s important to note that, while many states also recognize oral or “implied” employment contracts in addition to definitive ones, Florida does not. Third, Florida employers are not allowed to fire employees for retaliatory purposes, meaning they cannot terminate employees who file complaints against them or take part in other related “whistleblowing” acts. Any Florida employer found in violation of any of these rules runs the risk of being sued for wrongful termination in a Florida court of law.
Breach of Contract: In many states, employers who break oral or written contracts, including any statements about employment made in any employee handbooks, can be sued for wrongful termination. However, Florida is one of only a small number of states that do not recognize an implied-contract exception. Therefore, only written employment contracts with definitive employment dates will be considered valid under Florida law.
Discrimination: More often than not, today’s wrongful termination lawsuits involve charges of discriminatory practices. In the state of Florida, employers may not terminate employee relationships based on protected rights or for discriminatory reasons. For example, they may not fire workers on the basis of race, color, country of origin, sex, religious affiliation, age or marital status. They also can’t fire workers who have HIV, AIDS or a sickle-cell trait. Any employer who terminates an employee for reasons that could be considered discriminatory may be sued for wrongful termination in a Florida court.
Retaliation: State and federal laws prevent Florida employers from firing employees for reasons considered retaliatory in nature. For example, employers in the state of Florida cannot terminate employees who file complaints about not receiving overtime pay or about unsafe, unfair or unsanitary conditions in the workplace. Furthermore, they are not allowed to terminate employees who refuse to engage in illegal activities or commit crimes on the employer’s behalf.
Public Policy: The majority of U.S. states observe what are known as “public policy” exceptions to the concept of at-will employment, meaning employers in those states are not allowed to fire their workers for reasons the general public would consider unjust or unlawful. For example, employees cannot be terminated for failing to perjure themselves on their employer’s behalf, because perjury is widely known to be illegal. However, Florida is one of only a handful of states (the others are Georgia, Louisiana and Rhode Island) that do not recognize this type of exception to the doctrine of at-will employment.
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