St. Petersburg Wrongful Termination Lawyer
Serving You and The State of Florida
Attorneys serving you and the state of Florida
Proving wrongful termination in Florida can be challenging. Florida is an “at-will” state, meaning that you and your employer are presumed to be working together through your own volition. You can leave your employer at any time and for any reason without the employer having a cause of action against you. Inversely, your employer can terminate your employment at any time and for any reason.
Florida was the first state to enact “right to work” laws and is one of only six states to enshrine the laws as part of its constitution. (Fla. Const. Art.1 § 6). “Right to work” protects employees from the need to be part of a labor union regardless of whether other employees are unionized or not. “Right to work” and “at-will” are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are very different under Florida law.
The “at-will” status of Florida’s employment law often discourages those who have been wrongfully terminated. They assume the “at-will” status protects the employer, and there is nothing they can do. That is not true. While Florida employers can terminate employees at-will, there are hosts of reasons why they cannot fire an employee.
Protection from Wrongful Termination
Federal, state, and local laws protect employees from being fired based on specific characteristics. The most well recognized of these laws is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, designed to protect employees from discrimination.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gives all Americans protection under Federal law from termination based on protected characteristics, including:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
- Or for lodging complaints about harassment or discrimination
Contracts can often serve as protection against wrongful termination or provide a cause of action if you are wrongfully terminated. If an employer provides you a contract stating the terms under which you have been hired to work and have not violated those terms, you may be able to file a wrongful termination suit.
If the contract states that you can only be fired for cause, the employer may have to pay you the contract’s entire term if they terminate you before the end of the contract. If they refuse to do so, you may have a cause of action to sue the employer for breach of contract. Florida recognizes both oral and written contracts, so you may have a cause of action even if the contract was verbal.
Under Florida law, Florida Statutes Section 440.205, it is illegal for an employee to terminate you for making a worker’s compensation claim. Doing so is seen as “retaliation” and is expressly forbidden under the law.
Florida also protects those who refuse to participate in discrimination, illegal activity, or harassment. Whistleblower’s Act, Fla. Stat. § 448.102 protects employees who refuse to participate in these activities from having their jobs threatened. The improper practice or activity does not have to be related to the employee/employer relationship for you to be protected.
It is illegal to terminate an employee in Florida for reporting wage violations to the appropriate government agency. In 2020, Florida’s minimum wage is $8.56 per hour, and most employers are required to pay at least minimum wage. Florida also passed Amendment 2 in 2020, which will serve to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2026. The Florida minimum wage will increase by $1.00 per hour each year until 2026.
Under federal law, employees are entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in any workweek. If you bring a complaint because you are not being paid for overtime, you are protected under the law from retaliation.
If you work for a company or business that employs 50 or more people, you are entitled to unpaid leave due to sickness, pregnancy, the birth or adoption of a child, disability, bereavement, or the serious medical condition of a family member under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Federal law also protects employees from termination when called for jury service and for taking unpaid leave for military service. Under Florida law, active members of the Florida National Guard cannot be penalized or terminated when called to active duty. Once their service is complete, they must be reinstated to their jobs with full benefits available.
An employer cannot fire you for objecting to delays in being paid or for being owed overtime or past wages. The Fair Labor Standards Act clarifies this and how an employer must designate between employees and independent contractors.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination
There are different statutes of limitations depending on the facts of your case. In Florida, you have to file an EEOC claim within 300 days of the date the discrimination occurred. However, the EEOC requires that you file most claims within 180 days from the date of the last discriminatory act. Given that local, state, and federal laws may all play a role in the statute of limitations for your wrongful termination claim, it is essential that you contact a Florida employment attorney as early as possible.
Wrongful Termination During the COVID-19 Pandemic
A substantial number of Americans have lost their jobs as a result of the economic downturn propelled by the coronavirus pandemic. If you were fired during the pandemic, there are some instances where you may have a wrongful termination claim. These include being fired for any of the reasons discussed above, or:
- If you were fired as retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. Examples include making complaints about a lack of social distancing, inadequate personal protective equipment, sanitation, and cleaning, or other safety concerns
- If you were disciplined or fired because you refused to work based on a reasonable belief that working placed you at an immediate risk of physical harm or death due to unsafe conditions
- If you were fired because you were placed under quarantine due to symptoms or direct exposure to COVID-19
- Wrongful termination happens if you are terminated for taking medical leave under either state or federal law. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FCCRA) offer protection for workers taking time off to care for themselves or for family members.
- Termination because you filed for Worker’s Compensation due to COVID-19
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued safety guidelines during the pandemic. The general recommendations include social distancing, regular disinfecting of the workplace, and encouraging sick employees to stay home. The recommendations were in line with the recommendations of the CDC and the National Institute of Health.
OSHA is responsible for managing the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) designed to promote safety in the workplace in the event of:
- Chemical hazards
- Physical hazards
- Biological hazards (including infectious diseases such as COVID-19)
Under the OSH Act, employers cannot discipline, fire, or take other action against employees who voice concerns or complaints about workplace health and safety. If you were terminated after notifying an employer about a COVID-19-related safety concern, you might have a valid claim for wrongful termination.
Know What to do if You Feel You Were Wrongfully Terminated
Being fired is an emotional experience, and it can often create an immediate financial burden. Knowing what to do if you are wrongfully terminated can give you a sense of direction and help prevent you from making mistakes that would impact your wrongful termination claim.
If you believe you may have been fired based on discrimination, filing a workers’ compensation claim, requests for payment of wages, retaliation, or any other protected reason, it is essential that you know what to do. Florida has a limited statute of limitations depending on the type of wrongful termination, so it is essential that you contact a wrongful termination attorney as soon as possible.
There are numerous local, state, and federal agencies that may be involved in an allegation of wrongful termination. Communicating and potentially filing a complaint with the right agency is crucial for your wrongful termination case. A skilled Florida attorney with experience in employment law will help ensure that the right steps are taken, and the right agencies are notified to give your claim the best chance for success.
The following steps are crucial in handling a wrongful termination case:
- Gather as much documentation as possible, especially that which supports your belief that you are the victim of wrongful termination. Keep copies of your termination paperwork, emails, and the names and contact information of other employees who witnessed any discriminatory actions against you. Take notes of everything you remember that you feel contributed to your ultimate termination. Write down the dates when any discriminatory actions took place and the names and titles of anyone involved in your termination.
- Contact human resources. You have a right to be notified of your rights under COBRA, as well as any other severance issues. Ask your employer directly why you were terminated and take copious notes documenting their reply. Ask human resources to see your personnel file and take notes about what it contains.
- Contact the Equal Opportunities Commission (EEOC) to file a charge of wrongful termination after speaking with a Florida attorney. The EEOC has limited resources, so it is important to have a skilled attorney specializing in employment law on your side.
- The EEOC then notifies the company of the charge and pursue mediation if possible. If mediation fails or is deemed inappropriate for your situation, an investigation should ensue. You should be kept updated regarding the status of the investigation into your claim.
- If the EEOC renders an inconclusive investigation or does not pursue an investigation, the agency will issue a Notice of Right to Sue letter. The EEOC or state agency has 180 days to make a determination. If the determination is not made within that time frame, you have the right to pursue a lawsuit without the issuance of a Right to Sue letter.
Although not common, the EEOC may render the decision to file a lawsuit against the employer. Should this determination happen, it is good to hire an attorney specializing in Florida employment law. Though the EEOC may be acting on your behalf, your attorney will make sure that your rights are protected and that the actions of the EEOC align with your best interest.
- Continue to pursue work after your termination. It can take some time for your case to reach a jury verdict or settlement, and that can create a serious financial hardship if you remain unemployed while waiting for a settlement or judgment. Continuing to pursue employment can also improve how you look to a jury should your case go to trial.
- Keep detailed records of your job search and provide them to your employment attorney.
What Compensation Can I Receive From a Wrongful Termination Claim
If you are successful in a wrongful termination claim in Florida, you may be entitled to:
- Attorney’s fees
- Lost wages—unpaid wages from the past and any future economic damage caused by a wrongful termination
- Liquidated damages—available if your employer violates the state’s minimum wage law and equal to the unpaid wages award. If your employer owes you $600 in unpaid wages, Florida law states that you may be entitled to another $600 in liquidated damages.
Contact a Florida Wrongful Termination Lawyer
Wrongful termination is, by nature, a controversial issue in an at-will state like Florida. A lawyer with experience in wrongful termination claims can help resolve the legal issues and ensure that your rights are protected.
The Lopez Law Group can help employers avoid wrongful termination claims and help employees who feel they were wrongfully terminated explore their rights under Florida law. Contact the
Lopez Law Group at (727)-933-0015 for a case review.
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