Florida, like many other states, is governed by the doctrine of at-will employment. Unless an employee has a contract with the employer for a specific term of employment (contracts for permanent or lifetime employment are not for a specific term), the employee is an “employee at will.” An employee at will can be terminated at any time, for any reason. Good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. Under at-will employment, the employer doesn’t need to offer a reason for the termination. However, while an employer can terminate an employee at will, the employer cannot engage in discrimination. Discrimination is the most common exception to the doctrine of at-will employment.
Employment discrimination is prohibited by federal and state law. Discrimination occurs on the basis of various protected classes such as race, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, religion and marital status. If an employer terminates an employee or engages in other conduct that affects the terms and conditions of employment, on the basis of any of these protected classes, then the employer has committed employment discrimination. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who oppose or complain about workplace inequity.
The laws that prohibit discrimination only apply to employers with a minimum of 15 employees. In addition, before an employee can bring a lawsuit against an employer for discrimination, the employee must first file a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is responsible for the enforcement of laws and investigating discrimination in the workplace. The charge of discrimination must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory act, or with the state fair employment practice agency, the Florida Commission on Human Relations, within 365 days of the discriminatory act. Failure to do so by the employee will result in the employee’s forfeiture of the claim and prohibit the employee from ever bringing a lawsuit against the employer.
Under federal and state law, victims may be entitled to economic damages such as lost pay and benefits, non-economic compensatory damages for mental anguish and damage to reputation, and job reinstatement.
Call board certified employment discrimination expert Darrin M. Phillips. (239) 262 4180