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WRONGFUL TERMINATION Q & A

Q: What constitutes a wrongful termination in Florida?

A: A wrongful termination occurs when an employee is terminated in violation of an employment contract or an employment law. 

Q: What does it mean when employers say that Florida is an at-will state?

A: In Florida, the overwhelming majority of employees are employed on an at-will basis.  This means that an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason, including a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason.  The power of employers to fire an employee at any time and for any reason is known as the employment at-will doctrine. 

Q: Are the exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine?

A: There are three exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine.  The first exception is employees who have an employment contract.  The second exception is employees who are members of a union and are protected by a collective bargaining contract.  Employees who have an employment contract or are protected by a collective bargaining agreement generally can only be fired for good cause.  The third and broadest exception is that employees cannot be fired for a reason which constitutes an illegal reason under an employment law.

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Q: What is an employment contract?

A: An employment contract is a written agreement entered into between an employee and an employer governing the compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of the employee’s employment.  Generally, an employment contract expressly states that the employee will be employed for a specific period of time, such as one year or three years. 

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Q: When is an employee wrongfully terminated in violation of an employment contract?

A: An employment contract customarily will provide that the employee can only be fired for good cause and generally will set forth the circumstances constituting good cause.  When the employee is fired without good cause as defined in the employment agreement, the termination is a wrongful termination.  Under such circumstances, the employee is entitled to recover damages against the employer for wrongful termination.

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Q: Are members of a union employed pursuant to an employment contract?

A: Generally, the compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment for union members are governed by a collective bargaining agreement rather than an individual employment contact.  The collective bargaining agreement customarily will provide that union members can only be fired for good cause.  When a union member is fired without good cause, the termination is a wrongful termination.  Under such circumstances, the union member is entitled to recover damages against the employer for wrongful termination.

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Q: Why is a termination in violation of an employment law a wrongful termination?

A: When an employee is terminated in violation of an employment law, the termination constitutes a wrongful termination because the termination is for an illegal reason.

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Q: When is an employee terminated for an illegal reason under an employment law?

A: Under federal and Florida employment laws, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason.  When an employee is terminated for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason, the employee has been terminated for an illegal reason.  For example, when an employer terminates a woman because it wants a man in the position or terminates an older employee because it wants a younger person in the position, the employee has been terminated for a discriminatory reason and thus an illegal reason.  Likewise, when an employer terminates an employee for complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace, the employee has been terminated for a retaliatory reason and thus an illegal reason.

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Q: What are some factors that I should consider in determining whether I was wrongfully terminated in violation of an employment law?

A: It sometimes can be difficult to know whether you were fired for an illegal reason under an employment law.  Employers seemingly possess an unlimited capacity to come up with alibis, such as poor performance, an employee or customer complaint, or a bad attitude, that are used to cover up an illegal reason.  In evaluating whether or not you were wrongfully terminated, it is helpful to consider the following questions:

* Were you treated differently or less favorably from employees of a different race, national origin, sex, or religion?  Stated another way, were employees of a different race, national origin, sex, or religion given preferential treatment?

* Were you treated differently or less favorably from younger employees?  In other words, were younger employees given preferential treatment?

* Were you pregnant when terminated or terminated shortly after returning from maternity leave?

* Did you request an accommodation because of your pregnancy?

* Did you request an accommodation for a disability?

* Did any employees, including any supervisory or management level employees, make any discriminatory comments, whether about you, other employees, or third- persons, in the workplace?

* Were you subjected to any sexually or racially harassing behavior at work?

* Were you subjected to any harassing behavior on the basis of age, pregnancy, religion, or disability?

* Did you complain about any discrimination or harassment in the workplace?

* Did you object to or refuse to participate in any unlawful act by the employer?

* Did you seek a leave of absence from work because of a health condition?

* Did you suffer an injury at work and make or attempt to make a workers’ compensation claim?

* Did you complain about not being paid overtime?

* Do you believe that the reason given by the employer for the termination is a lie, a phony reason, or has no basis in fact?

* In terminating your employment, did the employer fail to follow any policy, such as a progressive discipline policy, in an employment handbook?

* Were you fired for something that other employees have done and were not fired for?

* Did the employer target you for termination by papering your personnel file with disciplinary actions in order to justify the termination?

* Did you ask the employer for a reason for the termination and the employer refused to give you one?

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Do You Have More Questions Or Believe You Have A Case?

If you have more questions or believe that you have a wrongful termination case, please contact our office to speak with an employment lawyer.  You will never have to pay to speak with an employment law attorney here.  We can help you take action to protect and vindicate your employee rights.  We take wrongful termination cases on a contingency fee basis.  This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.    

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