Wrongful Termination: Under Florida Law

By: Donna M. Ballman
Donna M. Ballman, P.A.
5001 S. University Drive, Suite G
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33328
(954)680-6300
ballmand@ballmanfirm.com

Wrongful termination as a claim generally does not exist in Florida, but there are exceptions. Florida is an at-will state, which means an employer may fire, demote, hire, promote and discipline employees for pretty much any reason, or no reason at all. Some people confuse “at-will” with “right-to-work,” which has nothing to do with wrongful termination at all, but means that employees may not be forced to join a union to work at a particular job.

Here are the types of termination that may fall in the category of wrongful termination in Florida.

  1. Discrimination: Termination due to race, age, sex, pregnancy, national origin, marital status, color, religion, or disability is illegal in Florida. You are protected from this type of termination if your employer has 15 or more employees (and in some counties, 5 or more employees). You may be able demonstrate you were treated differently than those of a different race, sex, religion, national origin, age, or other protected status under the same circumstances. Try to think of people who are of a different race/age/sex, etc. and were treated differently from you. Find out if there are people who have also been the victims of similar discrimination. If only people of a particular race, etc. have been terminated for a particular violation, where others have only been warned, this would be discrimination.

  2. Reporting or objecting to discrimination: If you were sexually harassed or the victim of other discriminatory harassment based upon race, age, religion, national origin, marital status, color, or disability, you can’t be fired in retaliation for reporting such harassment.

  3. Objecting to or refusing to participate in discrimination, harassment, or illegal activity: If the employer has 10 or more employees, you may be a protected whistleblower.

  4. Making a worker’s compensation claim: It is illegal to terminate you for making such a claim.

  5. Taking leave due to bereavement, sickness, disability, or serious medical condition of a family member: If you worked at least 12 months (can be non-consecutive) and the employer has 50 or more employees, you may have a Family and Medical Leave Act claim.

  6. Being owed overtime or wages: You cannot be terminated for objecting to not being paid or objecting to improper classification of you as an exempt employee not entitled to overtime.

  7. Testifying against the employer or in any court case where subpoenaed: You can’t be terminated for your testimony under subpoena.

  8. Pregnancy: You can’t be terminated for your pregnancy, or because you recently gave birth and the employer has stereotypical beliefs about women with children.

  9. Breach of contract: If you have a contract that says you can only be terminated for cause, the employer may have to pay you for the entire length of the contract if they end it early.

  10. Being over 40: In a layoff or redundancy, the employer is supposed to provide you with a list of the ages of the others laid off or made redundant so you can determine whether or not age discrimination has occurred.

Even if nothing illegal happened, many employers will discuss a severance agreement with an employment attorney hired to negotiate with them. As an attorney who has been practicing for 20 years in employment law, I find that sometimes an amicable transition is the best way for both employer and employee to move on in a positive direction. If you are offered a severance package, it is best to have an attorney review it prior to signing. Many employment attorneys will work to negotiate a better package for you.

The best course of action when terminated, particularly where you believe there was no just cause, is to contact an attorney who handles employment law to discuss your options.