The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented economic turmoil, both around the world and in our own backyard. In 2020, over one million Floridians lost their jobs because of the virus. While most employers have tried to protect their employees from coronavirus, some have dismissed them illegally in the wake of the outbreak.
If you were let go because of COVID-19 and believe you were unlawfully dismissed, an experienced Miami wrongful termination lawyer can evaluate your situation and determine if you have a case.
Florida At-Will Employment Laws
Florida is what is called an “at-will employment” state. This means an employer can typically terminate your employment whenever and for whatever reason they want without giving you advance notice. At-will employment is a two-way street, so you can also leave your job at any time for any reason, with or without notice.
Wrongful Termination in Florida
While at-will employment is the general rule, your employer does not have carte blanche when it comes to firing. The law has created certain exceptions that make some terminations illegal. For instance, an employer cannot dismiss you for discriminatory reasons, such as race, national origin, gender, disability status, or other legally-protected attributes.
COVID-19 Wrongful Terminations
If you've lost your job because of the coronavirus pandemic, your dismissal was unlawful if your employer violated legal protections and terminated you for an illegal reason. A few common types of coronavirus wrongful terminations are discussed below.
Retaliation for Engaging in Protected Activity
Under Florida law, an employer cannot fire you because they are upset that you took certain legally-protected actions, such as:
- Abiding by stay-at-home orders when your boss wanted you to come to work.
- Raising concerns about sanitation procedures, lack of personal protective equipment, inadequate mask and social distancing policies, or other health-related issues.
- Taking medical leave after contracting the virus or to care for a close family member who was infected.
Disparate Treatment and Disparate Impact of Layoffs or Furloughs
We’ve already established that employers cannot fire someone for discriminatory reasons. On top of that, Florida law protects you from being treated differently because you belong to a protected category such as race. If your employer intentionally furloughs or layoffs people of a certain race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability status, they have engaged in “disparate treatment” and can be sued for wrongful termination.
Additionally, Florida law protects you from seemingly neutral layoffs or furloughs that have a disproportionate impact on people in a protected category. This is called “disparate impact.” For example, if the selection criteria an employer used when deciding who to lay off resulted in a disproportionate number of women losing their jobs, a woman who was let go could have a wrongful termination claim.
WARN Act Violations
The Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN”) requires employers with at least 100 full-time employees to provide at least 60 days’ written notice of certain plant closings and mass layoffs. While there are some exceptions to this rule, if you were part of a mass coronavirus layoff and did not receive 60 days’ notice, you may have a wrongful termination claim.
A Miami Employment Attorney Can Help
An experienced Florida employment lawyer can help you pursue a wrongful termination claim against your employer. If you win your case, you may be able to receive compensation for lost wages and benefits, pain and suffering caused by the wrongful termination, and punitive damages if your employer’s behavior was especially egregious.