Is Florida an “At-Will” or “Right to Work” state?

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As employment and labor law attorneys, we often hear confusion regarding these two concepts.  It’s understandable, as they both relate to your rights as an employee in the state of Florida. 

The most common misconception is when an individual believes that the concepts derived from “at-will” employment are labeled as your “right to work.”  While this is incorrect, these two concepts do overlap and it is very important to understand the principles behind each one.

Why is it important to understand these two concepts?  Because they relate to your employment at this very minute.  Ok, enough about the importance, which applies to Florida?  The answer is both.

Florida is an “at-will” and “right to work state.”  This is possible because these two terms mean completely different things.   Florida is an “at-will” state, which means that you or your employer can terminate your employment relationship for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all.  It leaves the door wide open on both sides.  This obviously has its advantages and disadvantages. 

An example of an advantage of “at-will” employment is that neither you nor your employer have any long term obligations to each other.  If a better opportunity arises for you, you can quit and move on.  Same goes for your employer.  If it decides to make budget cuts, or finds someone with more experience as it relates to your job, it can terminate you.  Neither scenario would give rise to any legal action from either side.  Simply put, it’s the freedom to choose where you work and who you employ at any given time.

A good example of a disadvantage is that this very same freedom means that your future with any given employer is unpredictable.  You may believe you have found your long term career, but your employer has other plans.  The opposite is also true as employers can lose fantastic employees at any moment.  Whether or not this seems fair to you, it is the majority view across the country.

Well, did you forget to explain “right to work”?  Nope.  Right to work means that your employment cannot be affected by your decision to join, or refuse to join, a labor union.

Article 1, Section 6, of the Florida Constitution sets forth everyone’s right to work in our state.  This means that an employer cannot refuse to hire, or terminate you, just because you do not want to pay and participate in a union.  On the other hand, this also means that you can join a labor organization and bargain collectively without fearing for your job.  This hence, is your “right to work” in Florida.  You have a right to work which is unaffected by union membership.  Conversely, it does not stand for the notion that you can be fired or quit your job at any time.  That is what “at-will” employment sets forth as previously discussed.

Hopefully, this helps to clarify these concepts.  It is, however, important to understand that these concepts are only the starting point of your employment status in Florida.  Many confusing issues may occur that require legal advice. 

For example, you may be offered an employment contract by your employer which would almost certainly alter your “at-will” status.  You could also be a public employee where a collective bargaining agreement controls many aspects of your job.  These two scenarios will have effects that you need to fully understand in order to be protected.

Finally, another important concern that arises after these concepts are explained is something to the effect of “So my boss can fire me for a bad reason?  What if it is illegal?”  These are great questions because while you can be fired for a bad reason, you cannot be fired if the “reason” falls under an area protected by law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act protect individuals from being discriminated against because of their race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, or national origin.  While it may be easy to understand “at-will” employment, it may be much more difficult to ascertain whether the employer has violated your rights under these laws. 

If you have general questions or concerns about these concepts, or need more information on how an employer may be violating them, contact our office for a consultation at (407) 803-5400 or info@wilsonmccoylaw.com.  These claims stem from unfortunate circumstances, but don’t go at it alone.  Let us help you fight to protect your rights.