Florida Wrongful Termination Laws
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Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Florida, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.
But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. If your Florida employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, for example, you may have a legal claim against your employer for wrongful termination.
Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your Florida employer for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of employment rights in Florida, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, speak to an experienced Florida employment lawyer. To learn more about Florida employment law, contact Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.
Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only certain employers must comply with these laws. For most types of discrimination, the law apply to employers with 15 or more employees. However, the prohibition against age discrimination applies to employers with 20 or more employees, and the ban against citizenship status discrimination applies to employers with only four or more employees.
Florida law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, marital status, AIDS/HIV, or sickle cell trait. In Florida, employers must comply with these laws if they have at least 15 employees.
These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint. Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.
Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. In Florida, the Florida Commission on Human Relations enforces state laws prohibiting discrimination. In many cases, state fair employment practices agencies will record your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, you should check to make sure. If not, you may also have to file a complaint with the EEOC; you can find contact information for the nearest office at the EEOC’s Field Offices page.
Breach of Contract
If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Florida, an employment contract may be written, oral, or implied. In the first two types of contracts, your employer makes oral or written promises not to fire you for a certain period of time without good cause. In an implied contract, your employer makes oral or written statements that create a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed. However, there must be a specific reference to the length of your employment and the benefits you would receive. If you have an employment contract and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Wage and Hour Issues
In Florida, employees are entitled to a minimum wage of $8.05 per hour. Although Florida doesn't have any overtime laws, under federal law, employees are entitled to receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Employers in Florida are not required to provide meal or rest breaks. However, if they choose to offer breaks of 20 minutes or less, employees must be paid for this time. It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for reporting wage violations to a government agency or for testifying in a wage and hour proceeding.
Time Off Work
State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Florida, these rights include:
- Military leave. Under federal law, employees have the right to take up to five years of leave to serve in the military, with the right to be reinstated when they return to work. (This law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service, protects employees from discharge without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty, and provides other protections; see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave for more information.) Under Florida law, employees who are members of the Florida National Guard and are called into active state duty may not be penalized for their absence from work. Once their military service is complete, they must be reinstated with full benefits. And, they cannot be terminated without cause for a year after they are reinstated.
- Jury duty. Employees are entitled to take unpaid leave for jury service. Employers who threaten or fire an employee for jury service are subject to criminal penalties and damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- Family and medical leave. In Florida, employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a new child, or to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees can take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military. Employees who take FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position once their leave is over. Florida law also gives employees the right to take three days of unpaid leave per year to deal with issues arising from domestic violence. For more information, see Nolo’s article Florida Family and Medical Leave Laws.
Many states prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under workers' compensation laws. In Florida, employers may not fire or threaten to fire employees for making legitimate workers' compensation claims.
What to Do Next
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Florida employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you sort through the facts and assess the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also inform you of other state or local claims that you may have in addition to those listed above. Whether you want to try to get your job back, negotiate a severance package, or sue your employer in court, a lawyer can walk you through your options and help you decide on how best to proceed.