Even an “At Will” Employee Has Rights
Most laypeople understand that Florida is an “at will” employment state, meaning that your boss or the company you work for does not need to have a valid reason—or any reason—to fire you from your job. This makes it hard to sue when you are fired. However, the fact that Florida is an “at will” employment state does not mean that if you are fired, you have no legal recourse.
Federal Laws Govern
Regardless of Florida’s status as an at will employment state, Florida employers still must follow federal employment laws. For example, an employer could not fire you because of your race or gender (or sexual orientation, as of a recent Supreme Court ruling). The fact you are “at will” does not protect your employer if he or she fires you in violation of these laws, and you can sue for damages.
Worker’s compensation laws protect you if you are fired as retaliation because you make a worker’s compensation claim. Pregnancy protection laws make it illegal for you to be fired because you are pregnant. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that your employer make reasonable accommodations if you have a recognized disability.
Contracts and Documents
Florida’s status as an “at will” employment state does not apply if you have an employment agreement or contract. If you are fired in violation of an employment contract you can sue for breach of contract damages.
Knowing this, many employers do not provide employment contracts. However, what you may not realize is that documents you sign that are not expressly labeled as employment contracts may actually give you a contractual right to sue if you are fired in breach of those documents.
For example, many employers require employees to sign employee handbooks or employee manuals. These are not employment contracts. However, if language inside of these documents creates some right or expectation of continued employment, the document could be construed as an employment contract.
The same goes with agreements such as non compete agreements and non disclosure agreements. These documents often have language that gives the employee a contractual right to sue if he or she is fired in violation of those agreements.
Even an oral promise of continued employment could potentially allow an employee to sue. A promise that is made to you that you rely upon can give rise to a legal obligation. For example, assume you live in another state and a company says “come to Florida and we will hire you.” You quit your job, pack your stuff, and move your family to Florida. When you arrive, the company says “Sorry turns out we don’t have a spot for you.” You may be able to sue for damages, based on your reliance upon the company’s promise to you.
The moral of this story is to get help from an employment lawyer if you think you have been fired unlawfully, and don’t assume that because you are an “at will” employee, that you have no rights.
Have you been fired from your job, or had some other adverse action at your place of work? Contact the Miami employment attorneys at Velasquez & Associates P.A. today to see if your employer has broken the law.