Wrongful Termination Examples: The Five Most Common Reasons Your Termination May Be Unlawful

common reasons for wrongful termination

In Florida, employment relationships are generally “at-will” (not to be confused with “right to work”). At-will employment means that absent contractual limitations to the contrary, an employer can generally terminate an employee’s employment at any time for any or no reason at all.

However, there are several important exceptions when it may be unlawful for an employer to fire an employee, even if the employee is considered an “at-will” employee. In this blog post, we will discuss five of the most common wrongful termination examples.

1. Complaining About Unpaid Overtime Wages or Being Misclassified under the FLSA

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Florida law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for complaining about not being paid all wages owed, including overtime pay for hours worked over 40 hours per workweek. The FLSA also makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee because the employee complained about being misclassified as an “exempt” employee and working more than 40 hours a week (and therefore entitled to overtime pay). While the FLSA has some jurisdictional thresholds, the FLSA generally covers employers regardless of the number of employees.

Example of Wrongful Termination For Unpaid Overtime

An example of a wrongful termination in this context might be as follows. An employer hires an employee and pays that employee the same hourly wage to work 40 hours per week. As time goes on, the employee starts to work more than 40 hours per workweek. But the employee notices that his employer has failed to pay him any of the overtime wages he has earned for hours worked over 40 hours per week. After discovering this, the employee goes to his manager and complains about their unpaid wages. The next day, the manager fired the employee because he complained about not being paid overtime. Absent extenuating circumstances, under the FLSA, the employer’s termination of the employee is likely unlawful.

For more information related to misclassification under the FLSA, BT Law Group has another blog post here.

2. Complaining About or Reporting an Employer’s Violation of Law, Rule, or Regulation

Florida employers may not fire or retaliate against an employee because the employee complained about or threatened to disclose the employer’s illegal conduct or violation of a law, rule, or regulation—a.k.a. whistleblowing.

Specifically, under Florida’s Private Whistleblower Act (Fla. Stat. §§ 448.101 et seq.), a private employer with at least ten or more employees may not take any retaliatory action (including termination) against an employee because the employee has:

  • Disclosed or threatened to disclose an activity, policy, or practice of the employer that is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation. However, the employee must first bring the activity, policy, or practice to the attention of the employer in writing in order to give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the activity, policy, or practice;
  • Provided information to or testified before any appropriate governmental agency, person, or entity conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry into an alleged violation of a law, rule, or regulation by the employer; OR
  • Objected to or refused to participate in any activity, policy, or practice of the employer which is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation.

Additionally, there are other state and federal laws that prohibit employers from firing or otherwise retaliating against an employee who complains about or reports an employer’s unlawful conduct, such as:

  • Unlawful discrimination or retaliation
  • Unlawful wage violations
  • Fraud and/or misrepresentation to the government in connection with collecting payment from the government

Example of Wrongful Termination that Constitutes Retaliation

For example, a hiring manager complains to her employer about the employer’s policy against hiring pregnant job candidates. Further, the hiring manager informs her employer that she refuses to follow this hiring policy because she believes it is discriminatory and unlawful. After complaining, the employer fired the hiring manager because she complained and refused to carry out the employer’s hiring policy.

The employer’s termination of the hiring manager may be unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and Florida’s Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”), which prohibit unlawful retaliation (including termination) for opposing unlawful employment practices, such as pregnancy discrimination, among others. Additionally, the employer’s termination of the hiring manager may also be a violation of Florida’s Private Whistleblower Act because the employee refused to participate in the employee’s policy against hiring pregnant individuals.

3. Requesting a Medical Accommodation

The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the FCRA provide certain protections to employees and job applicants with disabilities or perceived disabilities. The ADA and FCRA apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Under both the ADA and FCRA, covered employers are required to provide qualified employees and job applicants with reasonable accommodations to enable those individuals to perform the essential functions of their job. Among other prohibited practices, under both the ADA and FCRA, it is unlawful for a covered employer to fire an employee because the employee requested a reasonable accommodation due to a disability.

Example of Wrongful Termination for Requesting Accommodations

For example, an employee is undergoing treatment for cancer which makes it difficult for him to arrive for his work shift on time. Accordingly, the employee goes to his employer and asks if he can modify his schedule to come in later (and continue working until later) so that he can receive treatment. Instead of modifying the employee’s work schedule or discussing if there is any reasonable accommodation that could be provided, the employer fires the employee. Under the ADA and the FCRA, the employer’s termination of the employee’s employment may be unlawful.

Additionally, the ADA provides protections for employees (and applicants) from discrimination based on the employee’s relationship or association with another individual with a disability. Thus, under the ADA, it is unlawful for a covered employer to terminate or retaliate against an employee simply because the employee has a relationship with an individual with a disability.

Furthermore, both the ADA and FCRA provide protections for employees who are “regarded as” or perceived as having a disability. In this wrongful termination case, while an employer may not be required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee regarded as having a disability, the employer may not fire an otherwise qualified employee because they are regarded as having a disability or impairment.

4. Requesting a Leave of Absence for a Medical Reason

The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a 12-month period. Under the FMLA, employers are prohibited from firing or otherwise retaliating against an employee because the employee requested or used leave under the FMLA, among other prohibitions. Importantly, employees do not have to specifically request “FMLA leave” to be protected. However, the employee does need to provide enough information so that the employer is aware that the leave may be covered by the FMLA.

Generally, employees are eligible to take FMLA leave if they have worked for their employer: (1) at least 12 months, (2) at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and (3) at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. FMLA leave is available for:

  • The birth and care of an employee’s newborn child;
  • For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition;
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition;
  • For qualifying exigencies that arise when the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on covered active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty; and/or
  • To care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness (for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave).

Example of Wrongful Termination for Requesting Leave

For example, an employee goes to her employer and requests eight weeks of leave to care for her father, who will undergo spinal surgery and will be unable to care for himself during that time. The employee has worked for her employer full-time for two years and has not taken any FMLA leave in the last 12 months. Upon making the request for leave, her employer terminated her employment with the company because she requested leave. Under the FMLA, the employer’s termination is likely unlawful.

5۔ Notifying an Employer of Pregnancy

Title VII and the FCRA prohibit pregnancy discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. This includes termination of employment because of an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. Additionally, under the newly enacted Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”), which took effect on June 27, 2023, employers will be required to make reasonable accommodations to qualified employees and applicants for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Like Title VII and the FCRA, employers may not terminate an employee’s employment on the basis that the employee requested an accommodation under the PWFA.

Example of Wrongful Termination for Pregnancy Discrimination

For example, an employee tells her employer that she is pregnant and that she needs to temporarily adjust her work schedule due to a condition caused by the pregnancy. Rather than accommodate the employee’s request, the employer refuses to adjust the employee’s schedule and fires the employee. Under Title VII and the FCRA, the employer’s termination may be unlawful due to pregnancy discrimination. Additionally, under the PWFA, the employer’s action may also be unlawful because the employer refused to provide a reasonable accommodation that was based on a known limitation due to the employee’s pregnancy-related condition.

Contact a Wrongful Termination Lawyer Today

Employees face an incredible amount of stress and uncertainty when an employment relationship ends, especially when an employee believes that the termination may not be lawful.

Whether terminated for a reason discussed in this article or for another reason, Florida employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated should seek legal counsel well-versed in employment law. BT Law Group has extensive experience in advising clients about, and litigating claims related to, wrongful termination. Our wrongful termination lawyers can help you with your wrongful termination claim.

Contact us today for a consultation.

Author Bio

BT Law Group is an employment law firm in Miami, FL, founded by attorneys Jason D. Berkowitz and Anisley Tarragona. With a wealth of experience in various legal areas, they represent clients in various legal matters, including discrimination, unpaid wages, wrongful termination, management counseling, and other cases.

Since receiving their Juris Doctorates from the University of Miami School of Law, they have received numerous accolades for their accomplishments, including being selected to Rising Stars by Super Lawyers. Jason was also selected to The 2021 Best Lawyers in South Florida.

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