Employees and employers alike may wonder: Can you be fired for no reason in Florida?
The answer is yes. Florida is an “at-will” state, which means that in most cases, Florida firing laws permit an employer to fire an employee at any time with or without cause.
The employer also doesn’t need to give advance notice of termination.
Nevertheless, there are a few situations where firing an employee can get an employer into hot water, so it’s important to understand the limitations. Additionally, it’s important to understand legal obligations you may have to an employee after firing them.
A knowledgeable employment law attorney can help you develop policies and procedures to ensure that you comply with Florida laws on firing employees. For an overview of those laws, keep reading.
How to Fire an Employee Legally in Florida
Because Florida is an at-will state, you can generally fire employees without cause or notice.
As with any rule, however, there are exceptions. You cannot fire an employee under Florida employment law if termination is for an illegal reason or goes against the terms of an employment contract.
Don’t Terminate an Employee for Illegal Reasons
Although you can usually terminate an employee for any reason or no reason, some reasons are illegal.
If you fire an attorney for one of these illegal reasons, you may face a wrongful termination suit from the terminated employee.
Federal and Florida state law prohibits employers from firing employees based on:
- Gender identity,
- Sexual orientation,
- National origin,
- Disability, or
- Genetic information.
In addition to these categories, Florida law prohibits employment discrimination based on marital status or AIDS/HIV.
Federal law prohibits employers from terminating employees in retaliation for a number of protected activities such as:
- Filing a complaint or complaining to an employer about discrimination or harassment;
- Participating in a discrimination or harassment investigation;
- Requesting accommodations for a religious practice or disability;
- Complaining about unfair labor practices;
- Taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
- Participating in a union; or
- Reporting hazardous working conditions.
Florida has enacted additional laws that protect employees from retaliatory termination for things like:
- Reporting an employer’s legal violations;
- Participating in an investigation into alleged violations;
- Claiming workers’ compensation; or
- Reporting government waste or gross mismanagement (in the case of public employees).
This does not mean that employees in these circumstances cannot be terminated for valid reasons. But employers should tread carefully in such situations because a disgruntled employee may allege that the purportedly valid reason is just a pretext for retaliation.
Comply with the Terms of Employment Contracts
Employees and employers can choose to alter their at-will relationship with an employment contract. This may contain provisions that require good cause for termination, a certain amount of notice, or other restrictions.
If you fire an employee in violation of the terms of an employment agreement, you could be sued for breach of contract.
Provide Proper Notice for Large-Scale Layoffs
One other law you should be aware of is the federal Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. This federal law requires you to give 60 days’ notice if you intend to lay off either 50 or more employees at one location or more than 1/3 of your full-time workforce.
Florida Employment Law After Termination
Florida laws on firing employees also require you to do a few things after you have let an employee go.
Pay Remaining Wages
Florida does not require you to pay a terminated employee’s outstanding wages immediately.
However, you do need to be sure to pay them what they are owed by the next regular payday after they are fired.
Provide Healthcare Coverage
If you have 20 or more employees and offer optional group healthcare coverage, you have to allow the employee to maintain their coverage for up to 18 months following termination. This rule is governed by the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly known as COBRA.
Even though you have to allow the employee to continue coverage, you don’t have to pay for it. Unless you elect to subsidize COBRA as part of a severance package, the employee will have to pay both the employee and employer’s share of the insurance if they want to stay on the group plan.
Pay Unemployment Benefits
Unless the employee was fired for malicious conduct, they will be able to apply for unemployment benefits after they are terminated.
Unemployment benefits will not pose an immediate cost to an employer, because they are paid for through reemployment taxes paid by the employer. However, your Florida reemployment tax rate is affected, over time, by the amount of benefits paid out for your former employees.
BrewerLong Can Help You Comply with Florida Firing Laws
Firing an employee is a straightforward business in most cases. But if you face issues of possible discrimination, retaliation, or breach of contract, Florida laws on firing employees can become complex.
The particular situation involving an employer’s relationship with an employee before termination and the reason for termination is critically important to the employer’s exposure to a claim of wrongful termination. Talking with an attorney before terminating an employee is always best.Employment Law Attorney Kristi Benson
BrewerLong is an employment law firm for employers. We take a proactive approach to help you avoid employment suits. We can help you develop procedures, draft policies, and even train your human resources team to help your business stay compliant with Florida employment laws. We can also defend you against wrongful termination, discrimination, breach of contract, or any other employment-related claim.
Call us or contact us online today to learn how we can help protect your business.
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