Florida recognizes at-will employment, a common law rule that allows employees and employers to terminate a working relationship at any time and for no specific reason. However, employees can still file a complaint against their employer if they feel they were wrongfully terminated. A wrongful termination claim can arise when an employer does any adverse action against an employee because of discrimination and retaliation. As an employer, you should also know how to protect yourself against wrongful termination claims.
Set performance objectives and perform regular reviews
If the employee is aware that they are not performing their job effectively, then the termination should not come as a surprise. They expect it. Employers should clearly define the work objectives of each position, so employees know what they must do to keep their job. Regular performance reviews will help employees realize how far they are from reaching their goals. Failure to fulfill the performance objectives justifies the adverse action against the employee. These regular reviews can also serve as evidence if the employee decides to pursue a civil lawsuit.
Choose the right time
Remember that the context in which the termination occurred also matters. An employee can pursue a retaliation claim if they feel you terminated them because of the following reasons:
- They filed a workers’ compensation claim
- They reported discrimination or harassment
- They complained about their wages
- They took time off to care for a family member
If an employee is not performing well, it is best to terminate them immediately. If that employee has recently filed claims or made complaints, you should wait until the timing is appropriate and you have enough evidence to substantiate any adverse action.
Make sure everything is written and signed
A great way to avoid legal issues is to put everything in writing. You may have an employment contract, company policies or an employee handbook that explicitly outlines the grounds for termination and discipline. You may also include termination procedures. Make sure all your employees sign the document and have access to it.
The state and federal government safeguards the rights of employees, but that does not mean they should take advantage of these rights. If you have a reasonable reason to terminate an employee, do so compassionately, lawfully and with evidentiary support.