Most U.S. states abide by at-will employment, which means either the employer or employee can end the working relationship at any time for any legal reason. Although Florida is an at-will state, wrongful termination can occur when a company fires a person for an illegal reason or in breach of an existing contract.

If you lost your job and think your employer acted illegally, read on to learn more about state and federal wrongful termination laws.

Understanding illegal reasons for termination

Employment laws prohibit employers from firing a worker because of membership in a protected class. This could include his or her genetic information, sex, national origin, marital status, pregnancy, age older than 40, religious beliefs, disability, skin color or race. It is illegal to fire someone because he or she is a sickle cell carrier or has HIV or AIDS. Employers also may not fire a worker who claims he or she has suffered discrimination and made a formal complaint.

Employment laws also prohibit employers from firing a worker because that worker has engaged in protected conduct. As mentioned above, complaining about discrimination or sexual harassment to management or human resources constitutes protected conduct. Other examples of protected conduct include filing a Charge of Discrimination, participating in an investigation of another employee’s discrimination complaint, blowing the whistle on unlawful actions by the employer, taking FMLA leave, fling a worker’s compensation claim and serving jury duty.

Claiming Discrimination or Retaliation for Complaining about Discrimination

You or your attorney must file a claim of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or the state Commission on Human Relations within one year of the termination date. The commission will investigate the incident and determine whether there is cause to believe discrimination or retaliation occurred. If you want to sue because of a contract violation, you can sue the employer directly without filing a commission claim. There are other types of claims that can proceed directly to court, including whistleblower claims, FMLA retaliation and worker’s compensation retaliation.

Proving your case

If you think you were wrongfully terminated because of a contract breach, you must prove that your company promised job security in an oral or written contract. For a wrongful termination case involving discrimination, you must have legal proof such as:

  • Verbal or written statements by your manager regarding your protected class and adverse employment actions
  • Replacement by someone outside the protected class
  • Derogatory comments about your protected class
  • A history of bias against your class

When you feel discriminated against at work, keep careful records of these types of words and actions. You should also save copies of performance reviews and information about workplace achievements and corrective actions.