I wish I had $5 for every time I hear an employer say, “Florida is a right-to-work state, so doesn’t that mean I can terminate an employee for any reason?” Well, sort of, but you have confused the concepts of “right to work” and “at will” employment.
Meaning of “Right to Work State”
When we say that Florida is a “right to work state,” we mean that a Florida employee cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. In fact, this concept is part of our Constitution. Article 1, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution provides that collective bargaining agreements negotiated between unions and employers cannot include the requirement that all employees covered by the contract must join the union or be forced to pay union dues, as a condition of employment. For those of you who love statistics, 24 U.S. states, mostly in the southern and western United States, have a Right to Work law.
Meaning of “Employment at Will”
On the other hand, “employment at will” has nothing to do with unions. Under this concept, an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason (except an illegal one). Also, employees who do not have employment contracts setting forth definite terms of employment are employed at-will, meaning they can be terminated at any time.
Generally, Florida law does not require that employers provide advance notice of the termination. However, a few Florida court decisions have held that prior notice be given (based on the particular facts involved in these cases), or wages in lieu of notice.
So, even though an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, employers should still document the reason for an employee’s termination. Why? Nothing stops an employee from alleging that he or she was terminated for an illegal reason (e.g., discrimination). If an employer has no documentation, it may be more difficult to defend a lawsuit. As the saying goes in real estate . . . location, location, location. Well, in my world of employment law, we say, document, document, document!