Florida’s At Will Employment Law

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Florida is an “at will” employment state. As such, at-will employees can be terminated for any reason. The only exception is for employees who are covered by a contract or union agreement governing the terms of employment. Employees who are covered by an employment contract can usually only be terminated for the reasons set out in the contract. At-will employment also protects the employee’s right to resign.

Unlawful terminations violate legal protections, including discrimination or harassment, whistleblower protections, absence to serve on a jury, retaliation for asserting legal rights or violations of employment or union contracts. In such cases a fired employee could potentially file a wrongful termination claim.

Florida courts have consistently indicated any exceptions to the employment at will doctrine should be adopted by the legislature. Florida courts consistently hold that if there is no definite term of employment, it is at will. In one case, a former employee claimed her employer conned her into quitting a full-time job by promising her she would have a job for life, or at least until she reached 65 years of age. The court ruled an oral contract for life-time employment is terminable at will because there was no contract expressly providing a definite term for the employment.

Florida’s legislature has accepted the judicial invitation to limit this doctrine in a number of circumstances. One statute prohibits termination of employment because of an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or mental status. The legislature has also found compelling public policy bases for exceptions to the employment at will doctrine and the United State Congress has also adopted laws which limit the employer’s unfettered discretion to terminate.

Examples of these limitations in Florida include:

1. A criminal statute prohibiting discharge of an employee for trading or dealing with any particular merchant (the statute only provides for criminal prosecution and does not create a civil cause of action).

2. Prohibition of termination for filing a worker’s compensation claim.

3. Prohibition of termination for termination of a “whistle blower” (one who reports illegal activity).

4. Prohibition against termination for filing a claim for failure to pay wages or overtime.

5. Termination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or mental status.

6. Termination for exercising any federally protected rights such as unionization, family or medical leave, or filing a sexual harassment complaint.

7. And, one relatively unique to Florida, termination of an employee with a concealed weapons permit for keeping a gun in his car in the parking lot.

 

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