Florida is an At Will Employment State-But Wrongful Termination Still Exists
If you are an employer or an employee in Florida, you are probably familiar with the term of employment at will. But what does this term actually mean? And does the fact that Florida is an at will employment state mean that an employee can never sue an employer for being fired?
At Will Employment
As a general rule, and with some exceptions—some described below—an employer in Florida can fire an employee in Florida, for any reason. An employer does not need to have good cause or good reason. An employer can simply just be a jerk, or not like the employee. The employee can’t sue just because he or she was fired.
The employer’s ability to fire an employee for any reason is limited by federal law. The laws allow an employee to sue for damages, if the employee believes that he or she was fired for any reason prohibited by federal law.
These federal laws protect employees from being fired for reasons related to the employee’s gender, age, race, nationality or religion. Federal laws also prohibit an employee from being fired because the employee has a disability, because the employee is sick, or because the employee makes a worker’s compensation claim.
As an aside, these laws don’t just prohibit an employer from firing an employee. The employer also cannot fail to promote, demote, or fail to hire the employee for any reason prohibited by federal law.
Contracts and Agreements
Another time when an employer cannot fire an employee, is where the employee has an employment contract and the contract is violated by the employer.
Not every employee gets an employment contract. But many employees don’t realize that even though they never signed a document called “employment contract,” doesn’t mean that the employer cannot be sued for breach of contract if the employee is fired.
Many documents that the employee may sign at or around hiring—such as noncompete agreements, nondisclosure agreements, or even just employee handbooks or manuals—can be construed to provide the employee a contractual right to continued employment.
Practically, that means that an employee who is fired who signed any documents during his or her employment, may want to see if the firing violated a right or term listed in any of those documents.
In some cases, even oral agreements for hiring that are broken by the employer, can lead to a lawsuit. An employee who is told that he or she will be hired, and suffers some damage for relying on that promise (for example, spending money to move closer to the job, or turning down other job opportunities), can sue if the promise to hire is not fulfilled by the employer.
Consult with our West Palm Beach commercial litigation attorneys with questions, whether you are an employee or an employer. Let our lawyers at Pike & Lustig, LLP, help you. Call us at 561-291-8298 to get a consultation.