“At-will” and “right to work” are terms you frequently hear in connection with employment in the state of Florida, and a lot of people tend to think of them interchangeably. However, they have both different meanings and very different implications for employees.
Florida Is an “At-Will” State
Every state in the U.S., with the exception of Montana, is an “at-will” state. This means that both you and your employer are presumed to be working through your own volition, “at will,” with no long-term contractual obligation to each other. If you decide you’d rather work another job, you can leave your employer at any time, and they have no right to take action against you.
Unfortunately, the converse is also true. You can be terminated without cause — because, for instance, your employer wants to hire someone with more experience — and typically you would have no legal recourse against them.
“At-will” is the default employment status in Florida. An employment contract can be modified to protect an employee from being terminated without cause, either on a case-by-case basis or through the results of collective bargaining.
When Can I File a Lawsuit Against My Employer?
There are some cases in which you may be able to file suit against your employer for wrongful termination. They are as follows:
- The employer is breaking state or federal law — e.g., firing you violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
- The employer violates the public interest — e.g., you have been fired for refusing to perform an illegal act or being a whistleblower.
- Firing you goes against an implied contract — e.g., your employer’s established practice is not to terminate people without cause.
- The employer breaks a covenant of good faith — e.g., they fire you months before you can collect a pension.
“Right to Work” Is a Different Story
Florida is also a “right to work” state. This term has nothing to do with an employer’s hiring or firing you. Instead, it simply means that unionization is not compulsory, and your employer is not able to force you to participate in a union or to pay union dues.
Conversely, they cannot refuse to hire you or fire you for joining a labor organization or collectively bargaining to improve your wages or benefits. You have the “right to work” whether or not you choose to belong to a union.
Proponents of “right to work” claim that the law is neither pro- nor anti-union; rather, it protects the individual’s freedom. Opponents point to studies that demonstrate lower wages and generally worse conditions for employees in the 28 U.S. states with right-to-work laws.
In a “right to work” state like Florida, your employer is not able to terminate you for engaging in union activity. That is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. But because Florida is also an “at-will” state, you can be terminated for any other reason, making it tricky sometimes to determine whether or not you were wrongfully terminated.
Are You Wondering Whether You Have Been Wrongfully Terminated?
If you believe that you might have been illegally fired from your job, or want to know whether you have grounds to sue under Florida’s right-to-work laws, you need an attorney who can review the details of your case. The employment attorneys at the Tampa law office of Feldman Williams have spent more than two decades fighting wrongful termination cases and will be happy to put their experience to work for you.