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Termination At Will Means Every Day Is “Be Nice To Your Boss Day”

James W. Martin

When a Florida employer terminates a Florida employee, the employee will join the ranks of the unemployed. The unemployment rate is at its highest in 26 years. The employee might not find another job in time to meet monthly obligations and might not have enough money to pay for subsidized COBRA health insurance. Other than collecting unemployment, the employee might not have any rights against the employer.

Florida follows the doctrine of termination-at-will employment. This means the employee can quit work at any time. It also means the employer can fire the employee at any time. There are some exceptions.

One exception is if there is an employment contract for a specified term. If so, it might be a breach of that contract for the employee to quit or the employer to fire before expiration of the term. Most employment contracts include provisions allowing termination for cause, and “cause” is defined in various ways. For example, “cause” might include theft, insubordination, failure to meet specified objectives, failure to pay compensation, etc. Most employees in the workplace do not have employment contracts so this exception is not for everyone.

Another exception to termination at will is when an employer terminates employment in violation of federal, state or local law. If it can be shown that termination was based on certain types of discrimination or retaliation, then the employee might be entitled to remedies that include damages from the employer. Sometimes the damages include one or more of the following: past compensation and benefits, future compensation and benefits, emotional distress, medical expenses, punitive damages, interest, and attorneys fees.

However, not all discrimination entitles an employee to remedies against the employer. The discrimination must relate to a protected class, such as race, national origin, ethnicity, sex, gender, pregnancy, religion, age, color, disability. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website includes an online assessment feature to assist employees in determining whether they have a claim under federal law: https://egov.eeoc.gov/eas/.

For most forms of discrimination, the employer must have a certain number of employees before being liable under federal equal employment laws, but there might be state and local (city or county) laws that are triggered with a lower number of employees. In addition, state and local laws might also protect additional classes of persons, such as discrimination based on sexual preference.

The bottom line on termination-at-will in Florida depends on who we are talking about:

The bottom line for an employer is to be sure termination does not violate a contract or a federal, state or local law. This is complicated. Get legal advice.

The bottom line for an employee who has been fired is to consider whether termination violates a contract or a federal, state or local law. This is complicated. Get legal advice. Also see The Job Whisperer for ideas on getting a new job.

The bottom line for an employee who has a job is to keep it. Use common sense. Be nice to your boss. Be nice to your co-workers. Be thankful for employment.

When a Florida employer terminates a Florida employee, the employee will join the ranks of the unemployed. The unemployment rate is at its highest in 26 years. The employee might not find another job in time to meet monthly obligations and might not have enough money to pay for subsidized COBRA health insurance. Other than collecting unemployment, the employee might not have any rights against the employer.

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