As an attorney handling employment law claims on behalf of employers, it never ceases to amaze me the misconceptions employees often have regarding their “rights” to a job. For example, there is no legal requirement that a supervisor be “nice” or “courteous” to an employee. The traditional rule in Florida is that an employee may be discharged by the employer for any reason whatsoever, with or without notice, so long as the terms of an enforceable employment contract are not violated. This legal doctrine is known as employment-at-will. That is, the employee serves at the will of the employer. In Florida, employees who do not have employment contracts setting forth a definite term of employment are employed at-will and may therefore be terminated at any time. Collective bargaining agreements between union and management are employment contracts and thus union members enjoy rights that most employees simply do not have.
Furthermore, Florida law not imply the existence of an employment contract based on an employer’s policies and procedures even when those statements are in written form. In one illustrative case, a group of terminated employees brought suit against their employer alleging that their termination violated the employer’s personnel policy manual which stated that employees could only be terminated “for cause.” The Court entered judgment in favor of the employer because although each employee had signed an “offer of employment” which listed each employee’s salary the offer contained no specific term of employment.
As such, the “offer of employment” was not an enforceable employment contract. Additionally, the personnel policies were mere expectations as opposed to explicit mutual promises necessary to create a binding contract term.
The doctrine of employment-at-will is tempered by federal and state fair employment laws such as Title VII which prohibits discrimination based upon gender, race, religion, national origin or the Fair Labor Standards Act which prohibits retaliation against an employee who reports an employer failing to properly pay overtime to the Department of Labor. In such cases, an employer may be called upon to justify the termination of the employee despite the employment-at-will doctrine.
I personally represent hard working employers when faced with legal challenges by their employees. Referrals are always appreciated.