Florida Termination Laws

June 17th 2024

Termination laws in Florida are designed to protect employee rights and prevent discrimination. Given the state’s robust protections and the complexities surrounding “at-will” employment and wrongful termination, a thorough comprehension of these regulations is essential. This guide offers detailed insights into Florida’s termination laws, helping employers make informed termination decisions and ensuring employees understand their rights.

This Guide Covers

Legal Considerations for Termination in Florida
“At-Will” Employment in Florida
Lawful Termination in Florida
Legal Protections During Termination in Florida
Terminated Employee Benefits in Florida
Layoffs in Florida
Resignations in Florida
Legal Cases Related to Wrongful Termination in Florida

Legal Considerations for Termination in Florida

  • Federal and State Laws: In Florida, employment termination is governed by both federal and state laws. Notably, federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, prohibit terminations based on discrimination. Rights and protections are also in place for whistleblowers. Florida state laws impose stricter regulations on terminations. For example, the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) prevents termination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or marital status.
  • Recordkeeping: Employers in Florida must maintain accurate personnel records, including payroll records, for a minimum of three years, while I-9 forms should be kept for three years after hiring or one year after employment ends, whichever is later. Workers’ compensation documentation should be preserved for a minimum of two years following an injury. Employment tax records must be maintained for at least four years after the due date or payment date. 
  • Final Paycheck: Neither state nor federal law requires employers to issue a final paycheck immediately upon termination or resignation. However, employers are not permitted to withhold paychecks indefinitely. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees must be paid all due wages by the next scheduled payday, regardless of whether they were terminated or resigned. 
  • Company Policies: Companies may establish their own policies regarding termination, but these must align with applicable federal and state laws. While these policies themselves are not laws, failure to follow them can result in legal challenges from the terminated employee. 
  • Employment Contracts: Employment contracts may set specific terms for termination, especially for employees on fixed-term contracts. Violating these terms without a valid reason can result in breach of contract claims.
  • Working Conditions: Intolerable working conditions can, under certain circumstances, be grounds for what’s known as a constructive discharge claim against an employer. This only applies if the employee is subject to “unlawful” treatment such as racial discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation. 
  • “At-Will” Employment: As an “at-will” state, Florida allows both employers and employees to terminate employment at any time, for any legal reason. This principle is explained in more detail down below.

“At-Will” Employment in Florida

What is “At-Will” Employment?

In Florida, employment is “at-will” by default, meaning that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time without any reason. The “at-will” doctrine applies unless there is an employment contract that modifies these terms. While this flexibility allows employees to leave their job at any time without legal consequences, it also means they can be dismissed without cause.

However, the concept of “at-will” employment has evolved with exceptions stemming from employment contracts, laws, or public policy. Florida courts might also recognize an implied contract based on an employer’s practices and industry standards, potentially overriding the at-will status. These exceptions aim to ensure fair treatment in the workplace and protect against discrimination and retaliation.

What are the Exceptions to “At-Will” Employment in Florida?

In Florida, “at-will” employment has several key exceptions:

  • Discrimination: Florida’s anti-discrimination laws, such as the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), prohibit termination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or marital status. These state protections are supported by federal statutes like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • FMLA Leave: The Family Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons without fear of termination. This includes circumstances such as childbirth, personal or family illness, or family military leave. Employers are prohibited from using an employee’s FMLA leave as a basis for termination.
  • Workers’ Compensation Claims: Florida employees are entitled to file workers’ compensation claims if they are injured at work. Terminating an employee for claiming workers’ compensation is considered retaliatory and is illegal. This protection ensures that employees can seek compensation for workplace injuries without the threat of losing their jobs.
  • Jury Duty: Serving on a jury is a civic obligation, and employees are protected under law when they need to take leave for this purpose. Employers must allow employees the time off to fulfill this duty and cannot terminate employment because of their absence due to jury service.
  • Whistleblowing and Reporting Unsafe Conditions: Employees who report illegal activities, unsafe work conditions, or other regulatory violations (whistleblowing) are protected under various state and federal laws. These laws prevent employers from retaliating against employees who act to ensure compliance with safety regulations and law.
  • Reporting Illegal Employer Activities: Similar to whistleblowing, if an employee reports an employer’s illegal acts—such as fraud, safety violations, or other illicit activities—they are protected from termination. This encourages transparency and accountability within the workplace.
  • Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: Employees may have grounds for a wrongful termination case if they can demonstrate that their dismissal was done in bad faith. This implied covenant requires both parties to engage in actions that fulfill, rather than frustrate, the intended purpose of their contract. For example, firing an employee to avoid paying due benefits or unfairly assessing their performance could constitute a breach of good faith.

Employment Under Contract in Florida

In Florida, most employment is “at-will,” meaning either the employer or employee can terminate the relationship at any time, with some exceptions related to public policy. However, employment contracts can also modify “at-will” employment conditions. These contracts can be both formal or arise from oral or implied commitments, and can limit the ways the employee may be terminated, such as promises not to fire without cause.

Employment contracts can be for full-time positions or specific tasks with a set end date. While employment contracts can offer stability and clarity for both parties, they must be drafted carefully to avoid inadvertently nullifying the at-will status. This is particularly important if the contract includes provisions like termination only for cause, which fundamentally alter the at-will relationship.

Florida employers might use contracts selectively, for executives or project-specific hires, but must be cautious. Unequal contract terms among similarly situated employees can lead to discrimination lawsuits if, for example, differences in contract terms appear to be based on gender or other protected characteristics. Thus, maintaining consistency and transparency in contractual terms is crucial to prevent legal issues while accommodating specific employment arrangements.

Lawful Termination in Florida

Legal Grounds for Termination in Florida

Even if a termination decision seems unfair, it won’t necessarily be grounds for a legal claim. In Florida, employers are entitled to fire employees for vague or unjustified reasons, or even for no reason at all, according to the “at-will” employment doctrine. However, this is potentially risky as it could lead to legal claims related to discrimination or retaliation. 

Despite the flexibility of “at-will” employment, most employers have legitimate reasons for firing an employee. “Just cause” for termination might include poor attendance, inadequate performance, criminal activities like theft, dishonesty, discriminatory behavior, and substance abuse during work hours. Whatever the reason may be, employers must ensure that employees are aware of the rules and the consequences of breaking them. 

Explore our comprehensive guide to firing employees in Florida for further information.

How Do I File a Wrongful Termination Claim in Florida?

Wrongful termination in Florida occurs when an employee is fired for illegal reasons. To protect against wrongful dismissal, employees should understand their rights and the legal grounds for wrongful termination. Here’s how to pursue a claim:

  1. Collect Evidence: Before filing a claim, collect all relevant documents and communications, including emails, texts, pay stubs, and witness statements to support your case.
  2. File a Complaint: Start by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). You have specific time frames within which to file these complaints—300 days for the EEOC and 365 days for the FCHR.
  3. Agency Investigation: After filing, one of these agencies will investigate your claim. If they find a violation, they may attempt to negotiate a settlement. If unsuccessful, they will issue a right to sue notice, allowing you to take your case to court.
  4. Legal Action: With a right to sue notice, you can file a lawsuit in court. This process involves evidence review, witness testimonies, and potentially a trial. If the court rules in your favor, possible remedies include reinstatement, back pay, and compensation for emotional distress.

Legal Protections During Termination in Florida

Florida’s employment laws provide specific protections for employees regarding termination, ensuring fairness in the process:

  • Final Paycheck: Employees in Florida must receive their final paycheck by the next scheduled payday. According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), this applies to all employees, whether they were fired, laid off, or resigned. 
  • WARN Notice Requirements: There are no notice requirements for Florida employers, except for mass layoffs or plant closures. Employers with 75 or more employees are required to give a 60-day notice for mass layoffs, relocations over 100 miles, or plant closures under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.
  • Non-Compete Agreements: While non-compete agreements are enforceable in Florida, they are subject to specific conditions set by Florida Statute 542.335. Firstly, these agreements must be in writing and signed by the employee. They must also protect at least one legitimate business interest, such as trade secrets, confidential information, or significant relationships with specific customers or clients. A non-compete agreement in Florida may be declared void if it is found to be unreasonably broad in terms of its geographical scope, duration, or the business activities it restricts. The enforceability of these agreements hinges on whether they are necessary to protect the employer’s legitimate business interests. If a court finds the restrictions excessive, it can modify the agreement to make it reasonable and enforceable.
  • Contractual Protections: Employees with employment contracts or those covered under collective bargaining agreements may enjoy additional protections that stipulate the conditions and procedures for termination.

Terminated Employee Benefits in Florida

In Florida, terminated employees may be eligible for the following benefits under specific conditions:

  • COBRA Health Coverage: Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), employees can extend their health insurance coverage for up to 18 months after termination (or up to 36 months under certain circumstances). This is required for employers with at least 20 employees, following qualifying events such as job loss (excluding cases of gross misconduct) or reduction in work hours.
  • Unemployment Compensation: This benefit offers temporary financial support to individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Eligibility requires having worked in Florida during the past 12 months (or longer) and actively seeking employment.
  • Severance Pay: Although severance pay is not mandated by Florida or federal law, if it is specified in an employee handbook, layoff notice, or employment contract, employers are obligated to comply. Failure to fulfill these commitments can lead to a breach of contract. Severance packages often include a lump sum payment, continued health benefits, periodic payments, and outplacement services. Importantly, employees have the right to negotiate the terms of their severance or to decline the initial offer, and the absence of a direct offer does not necessarily mean severance is unobtainable.

Layoffs in Florida

Florida employers must adhere to specific regulations when conducting layoffs:

  • Selection Process: Employers are required to use clear and objective criteria to decide which employees will be laid off. Factors may include seniority, job performance, and the relevance of specific roles to the company’s operations to prevent claims of bias or discrimination.
  • Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act: This federal law mandates that employers with 100 or more employees provide a minimum of 60 days’ notice before conducting mass layoffs or closing plants.
  • Anti-Discrimination: The criteria used for layoffs must not disproportionately affect protected groups, such as older workers or specific genders, as this could violate anti-discrimination laws.
  • Final Paycheck Laws: Unlike in many states, there is no state law in Florida requiring immediate payment of final wages upon termination. Instead, employers must comply with the FLSA requirement to issue the final paycheck by the next scheduled payday. 
  • Record-Keeping and Documentation: Employers should keep detailed records of the layoff process, including the criteria used for selecting employees for layoffs and communications with affected employees, not only to comply with strict recordkeeping laws but also to defend against potential wrongful termination or discrimination claims.
  • Employment Contracts: Employers need to consider the individual employment contracts that may influence severance terms, notice periods, and other rights of employees being laid off.

Resignations in Florida

Resignation refers to the act of leaving one’s job or position. This decision can be motivated by various personal or professional reasons, from accepting a new job opportunity to relocating for personal reasons, retiring, or other life changes. However, resignations can also be involuntary. If an employee feels compelled to resign due to hostile working conditions or pressure from their employer, the legitimacy of their resignation could be legally challenged.  Whether a resignation is voluntary or involuntary impacts the entitlements an employee may receive after quitting. 

Voluntary Resignations

When employees in Florida decide to resign, they and their employers are subject to certain legal obligations:

  • Final Paycheck: In Florida, the rules for final paychecks are just the same for resignations as they are for firings or layoffs. In the absence of a state law regulating the payment of final wages, employers must follow the federal Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) requirement to provide the final paycheck on the next scheduled payday. 
  • Notice Periods: While it’s customary to provide a 2-week notice period in Florida, it is not a legal requirement (unless stated otherwise in a company handbook or employment contract). The “at-will” employment doctrine allows employees to resign without giving notice beforehand. 
  • Employment Contracts and Company Policies: Contracts or company policies may detail specific conditions related to resignations, including any required notice periods or stipulations on the minimum period an employee must work before they can resign.

Involuntary Resignations

Involuntary resignation, also known as constructive discharge or constructive dismissal, is legally recognised in Florida. A resignation is involuntary when the employee is compelled to resign due to actions by the employer that make the working environment intolerable. 

For a successful claim, evidence must show that the employer knowingly allowed intolerable conditions, and any reasonable person in the same situation would have resigned. The employee must document these conditions, demonstrate the employer’s awareness and failure to remedy the situation, and show that resignation was the only reasonable recourse. 

The criteria for constructive dismissal typically involve a pattern of adverse employer actions rather than a single incident, unless the incident is extremely severe, such as requiring an employee to engage in illegal activities. Common grounds for constructive dismissal include persistent bullying, sexual harassment, unsafe work conditions, unreasonable schedule changes, wage issues, and discriminatory behavior.

Legal Cases Related to Wrongful Termination in Florida

1. Jury Awards $8.1 Million to Former Michaels Manager Fired After Cancer Diagnosis

In November 2010, Kara Jorud, a former store manager for Michaels Stores, Inc., filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination after being dismissed in October 2008 following her diagnosis with breast cancer and subsequent medical treatments, including a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Jorud claimed that Michaels interfered with her medical leave rights, demanding her return to work prematurely, and harassed her during her recovery. Despite her high performance, she was terminated, resulting in the loss of medical insurance and nearly losing her home.

The lawsuit alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and wrongful termination, highlighting the severe and repeated harassment from her district manager, who pressured her to return to work soon after surgery and threatened her job security as she underwent chemotherapy. The jury sided with Jorud, awarding her $8.1 million, comprising $100,000 for lost wages, $4 million for pain and suffering, and an additional $4 million in punitive damages, recognizing the egregious nature of the discrimination and the company’s failure to accommodate her medical needs during her cancer treatment. 

Key Lessons Learned From This Case:

  • The case serves as a reminder for employees to be aware of their right to take leave under FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the viable recourse available through the legal system if those rights are infringed.
  • It also highlights the necessity for employers to maintain sensitivity and support towards employees dealing with severe health issues, as failure to do so can not only lead to legal repercussions but also damage the company’s public image. 

2. Florida Restaurant Pays $200,000 to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

In 2012, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against the owner/operator of a Hurricane Grill and Wings franchise in Royal Palm Beach, Florida. The lawsuit alleged that the business allowed its female employees to be sexually harassed by a customer, who was a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy. The harassment reportedly included inappropriate touching and sexual comments, along with propositions for sexual activities. After one of the female servers sought legal assistance to file a complaint with the EEOC, she was terminated by the company. 

The case was settled with the restaurant agreeing to pay $200,000 to settle the class-action sexual harassment lawsuit. In addition to the monetary settlement, the new management of the franchise (Hurricane Wings Management of Royal Palm Beach, LLC, which took over after the lawsuit was filed) agreed to implement several corrective actions. These included revising their sexual harassment policy, providing training to all employees, posting notices affirming their commitment to a harassment-free workplace, and continued monitoring and reporting to the EEOC. They also agreed to formally request that the harassing customer stay away from the restaurant.

Key Lessons Learned From this Case: 

  • This case highlights the employer’s responsibility to protect employees from harassment, including that which may come from customers. 
  • It also demonstrates the potential legal repercussions of retaliation against employees who report harassment.

3. Nestlé Waters Settles Gender Discrimination Suit for $300K After Allegedly Denying Promotion and Subsequently Firing Veteran Female Employee

Nestlé Waters North America, a bottled water company, paid $300,000 to settle a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for sex discrimination. The suit claimed the company failed to promote Dawn Bowers-Ferrara, a 20-year employee, because of her gender and subsequently selected her as the only one among 14 Florida zone managers to be terminated during a consolidation. Despite her experience, a less qualified male was chosen for a newly created position. In addition to the settlement, Nestlé agreed to provide Bowers-Ferrara with 12 months of outplacement services. 

Key Lessons Learned From this Case: 

  • This case is a reminder of the importance of fair and unbiased employment practices, with the EEOC emphasizing that employment decisions should be based on qualifications, not gender.
  • It also highlights the legal and financial risks associated with failing to adhere to anti-discrimination laws. 

Learn more about Florida Labor Laws through our detailed guide.

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