Michael L. Feinstein, P.A.

Employee termination always has its risks

Running your own Florida business means you will have good days and bad days. When a client is especially satisfied with your work or you increase your customer base, those are good days. When tensions arise among employees, you may count these among the bad days. The day in which you must fire an employee may send you home with a heavy heart, even if the employee was causing you grief on the job.

The last thing you or your business needs after terminating an employee is to face a subsequent lawsuit. Florida is an at-will employment state, meaning you do not need a reason or a warning before firing a worker. Unfortunately, at-will laws do not always protect you from lawsuits claiming wrongful termination.

Avoiding claims of wrongful termination

A successful wrongful termination claim would include verifiable proof that you discharged the employee for illegal reasons or defamed the employee. The employee must produce evidence of any of the following scenarios:

  • You fired the employee solely or in part because of his or her race, religion, age, disability or other class protected by the federal government.
  • The termination was in retaliation for some action, such as reporting illegal activity in your company, claiming workers' compensation, or taking advantage of Family and Medical Leave Act rights.
  • You spread untrue or scornful rumors that damaged the employee's reputation among co-workers or others.
  • Your intentional actions toward the employee led to emotional suffering.
  • You illegally shared details of the employee's termination, which violated his or her right to privacy.

To protect yourself from such accusations, it is wise to make your company code of conduct widely known among your employees, including the process for discipline and the reasons why an employee may be vulnerable to termination. Such information may also appear in any employment contracts. In fact, it would be wise to seek a review of your current contracts by a legal professional to ensure the language is clear and valid.

The termination of an employee may not be pleasant, but it does not have to be devastating to you or to the employee. Neither will an employee be entirely blindsided by a discharge if you follow careful and consistent procedures for performance reviews, coaching and progressive discipline. Nevertheless, you may want to seek legal advice before you proceed with the termination of an employee if factors exist that could turn the situation into a battle.

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