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Wrongful Termination

Posted by attorney Corey Cohen

What is wrongful termination of employment?

"Wrongful termination" can occur in a situation in which an employee has been dismissed or fired from employment. In Florida, as in most states, employment is presumably "at will," which means that an employer may terminate an employee at any time for any reason and, an employee may quit the employment at any time for any reason. However, certain reasons for terminating an employee are illegal and are a violation of the employee's rights. Some of the reasons include discrimination on the basis of gender, pregnancy, race, national origin, age, disability and religion. It is also illegal in Florida to terminate an employee for making a workers' compensation claim, taking off for jury service, or for refusing to comply with an illegal directive of the employer. These are just some examples of exceptions to the employment at will presumption.

  1. How can I tell if I have been terminated illegally?

The best way to determine whether you have been wrongfully terminated is to speak with an attorney. You may also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on your own. You should keep in mind that there are laws governing when you must file a charge or complaint and where that complaint must be filed.

  1. Am I protected against retaliation from my employer if I complain of discrimination?

In most situations, an employer who retaliates against an employee who files a legally valid complaint of discrimination based upon national origin, gender, religion, age or disability (as defined by the A.D.A.) may be liable for a separate and distinct violation of the civil rights act.

  1. What laws protect employees against discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based upon race, color, religion, gender and national origin. However, there are other laws as well, including the following: the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage discrimination between men and women performing substantially similar work; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against workers who are legally defined as disabled; the Rehabilitation Act which prohibits discrimination against federal workers who are disabled; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) which prohibits discrimination against older workers (defined as 40 years of age or above); and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 prohibiting intentional employment discrimination of workers on the basis of race and national origin.

  1. What to do if you feel you have been a victim of discrimination at your place of work?

First and foremost, read your employee manual to determine the procedures that are set up by your employer. Secondly, make sure you file a complaint with your employer or a supervisor at work pursuant to those procedures. You may skip the first step only if your employer has no policy or procedure. You must always document your complaint, have your documentation filed with your personnel file and, if possible, have an impartial witness available to observe that you handed the document to the appropriate human resources official.

  1. Should I quit because of Harassment at the workplace?

Resigning employment is not advisable, at least as it impacts legal remedies. To be able to recover lost back pay, or, for that matter, lost front pay, an employee must prove that he or she was illegally terminated by the employer. "Constructive termination" is the legal name for a discharge which has been forced upon the employee by the working conditions. However, the standard for proving "constructive termination" is extremely high: the employee must prove that, by objective standards, the work place had become so intolerable that no reasonable person could be expected to remain in employment. Mere discomfort, even on a daily basis, is not sufficient. If at all possible, an employee should try to remain on the job even when that means having to put up with an uncomfortable situation. Assuming there is liability on the part of the employer, an employee who quits may be severely limiting his/her potential damages.

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