Wrongful termination refers to being terminated from employment for an illegal reason. Some common examples of illegal reasons include, but may not be limited to:

  • Firing an employee because they belong to a protected class;
  • Firing an employee as retaliation for their involvement in a protected activity;
  • Any reason that would violate other federal anti-discrimination laws; and/or
  • Contractual breaches.

A common example of wrongful termination would be when the employer breaches an employment contract. If the contract specifies that the employment was to be continual, being fired could be considered wrongful termination. This applies whether the contract was written or implied. 

Therefore, the most important piece of evidence to determine whether or not you were terminated wrongfully, is your employment contract. If you do not have a copy of your employment contract handy, you may request a copy from your Human Resources department, or an attorney can request a copy on your behalf.

The other most common type of wrongful termination occurs when an employer discriminates against an employee. Employees who are considered to belong to a protected class are protected from discriminatory laws, practices, and policies. These protections are provided by both federal and state laws. A person may not be discriminated against based on the following characteristics:

  • Their race, national origin, and/or ethnicity;
  • Their gender and/or their sexuality;
  • Their age;
  • Their religion, religious beliefs, or lack thereof;
  • Disability, including pregnancy; and
  • Veteran status.

Similar to most other states, Florida employment is considered to be at-will. At-will employment is a type of employment arrangement in which the employer may fire the employee at any time and for any reason that is not illegal. Most employment arrangements are at-will. However, the “at-will” employment power is not absolute, and as such is subject to some exceptions.

To reiterate and expand upon what was already mentioned, under federal law, employers cannot fire an employee based on a protected characteristic such as:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • National origin;
  • Gender assigned at birth;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Disability; and
  • Citizenship status.

Additional protections provided under Florida labor and employment laws include:

  • Marital status;
  • AIDS/HIV; and/or
  • Sickle cell trait.

It is important to note that with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many laws have expanded to also provide protections for employees that are positive for Covid-19. However, not every state provides protections for employees out with Covid-19, therefore it is important to research your state’s laws to determine whether or not they provide protections for employees with a positive Covid-19 test. 

Typically, most protections arise out of employees taking leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) which disallows an employer to fire you while out on FMLA leave. Additionally, if you have a medical condition that heightens your risk to Covid-19, an employer cannot terminate you under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for your medical conditions that increase your risk of exposure.  

What Is Considered Wrongful Termination in Florida?

Unlawful termination in Florida is difficult to discuss due to the fact that the claim generally does not exist in the state. However, there are some notable exceptions, including:

  • Discrimination: As previously mentioned, termination of an employee who belongs to a protected class is illegal at both the state and federal levels. Illegal termination is wrongful termination. In Florida, you are protected if your employer has 15 or more employees; in some counties, 5 or more employees. If only employees of a specific race, religion, etc. have been terminated for a particular violation while others were only warned, this would be an example of discrimination as unlawful termination;
  • Reporting Or Objecting To Discrimination: Employees cannot lawfully be terminated for reporting or objecting to discrimination, whether against themselves or a coworker;
  • Whistleblowing: If your Florida employer maintains ten or more employees, you cannot legally be terminated for objecting to or refusing to participate in discrimination. This includes harassment and/or other illegal activities;
  • Worker’s Compensation Claims: Your employer cannot legally fire you for making a worker’s compensation claim in Florida;
  • Taking Sick Leave: If you have worked at least 12 months, which can be non-consecutive, and your employer has 50 or more employees, you may have a legal claim per the Family and Medical Leave Act;
  • Being Owed Overtime: In Florida, you cannot be terminated for objecting to not being paid. This includes objecting to improper classification of you as an exempt employee not entitled to overtime wages;
  • Testifying Against Your Employer: As a Florida employee, you cannot be terminated for your testimony when under subpoena;
  • Pregnancy: You cannot be terminated for your pregnancy. This includes recently giving birth when the employer maintains outdated and stereotypical beliefs about women with children;
  • Breach of Contract: If you have an employment contract stating that you can only be terminated for cause, your employer may have to pay you for the entire length of the contract if they end it early, thereby breaching the contract; and/or
  • Being Over 40: In cases of layoff or redundancy, your employer is required to provide you with a list of the ages of the others laid off or made redundant. The purpose of this is so that you can determine whether or not age discrimination has occurred.

When Can I Bring a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit in Florida? How Can I Bring a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit in Florida?

In Florida, if you are terminated for the aforementioned reasons, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination suit. It is important to note that in addition to illegal reasons, some other examples of being fired for illegal or unauthorized reasons include:

  • Reasons that violate public policy;
  • Punishing an employee for refusing to ignore safety standards;
  • Firing an employee because they reject the instructions to commit a crime; and
  • The employer ignores their own company’s policies in terms of termination procedures.

Generally speaking, an employer does not need to provide an employee with notice before firing them from their job. However, there are two exceptions. The first exception is if there is a valid employment agreement stating that the employer must provide notice prior to termination. The second exception is if doing so goes against the policies that are contained in the company’s employment handbook.

To reiterate, Florida law does not allow an employer to fire an employee for reporting illegal activities, policies, or practices by the employer to the authorities. This is referred to as whistleblowing. However, in order for this law to apply, the employee must first bring the matter to the attention of the employer in writing. After doing so, the employee may seek a court order preventing:

  • Further violations of the law;
  • Lost wages;
  • Reinstatement of employment; and
  • Other appropriate damages.

Before bringing a wrongful discrimination lawsuit against an employer in Florida, you must first file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. In Florida, this would be the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which enforces state laws prohibiting wrongful termination.

Should I Consult an Attorney for My Wrongful Termination Case in Florida?

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, you should consult with an experienced local Florida wrongful termination lawyer. Because many of the laws governing employment and wrongful termination vary widely from state to state, an area attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your rights and options according to Florida law.

An employment attorney can review your employer’s contracts, policies, and employee handbook in order to determine whether you have a claim. An attorney can also help you gather evidence to support your claim, and file a complaint with the proper agencies before filing a wrongful termination lawsuit. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.