Understanding your legal rights in the workplace and when fired is helpful when deciding what course of action to pursue. The following information is provided to help you become more knowledgeable in this area.
Employees’ Legal Rights in the Workplace
There is no quick checklist of your legal rights in the workplace. However, if you are working in a “hostile environment” (experiencing hostility and/or harassment due to race, age, sex, religion, national origin, disability, color, sickle cell trait, AIDs/HIV, or some other legally protected status), you may have an employment discrimination case and should consult with an experienced employment law attorney.
In other cases, understanding these four common misconceptions about your rights in the workplace can help you decide your best course of action:
1. “The boss fired me for no reason!”
Florida is known as an “at-will employment” state. This means that an employee can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all. Likewise, an employee can quit with equal impunity. Was your boss in a bad mood and you were around him/her at the wrong time? This situation usually does not constitute a violation of employment laws.
2. “I have the right to see my file!”
Public employees in Florida have the right to review and copy their personnel records, but there are no such laws for private sector workers. However, if you are in a union, your union contract may give you additional rights to review your file, have copies, or remove unfair information. Also, personnel files can almost always be reviewed during a grievance or disciplinary action.
3. “I demand my break right now!”
Florida has no meal or break laws for people over eighteen years of age and neither does Federal Law. However, Federal Law does provide some guidance as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times. Short breaks are usually twenty minutes or less, and should be counted as hours worked. Genuine meal breaks are usually thirty minutes or more, and do not need to be compensated as work time. Meal breaks are considered genuine and unpaid, as long as you are completely relieved of your duties during the meal break. If you are required to perform any duties (even something as minor as answering a phone), the break cannot be considered a meal or lunch period, and you must be paid for the time.
4. “I exercised my First Amendment rights.”
Your First Amendment right to free speech is not absolute in the workplace. The Constitution allows private companies to regulate speech and even bar political discussion entirely. Public employees are more protected by free-speech rules, but even those are very limited. Otherwise, you CAN be fired in Florida for your speech (including political speech) in the workplace, or outside the workplace. You CANNOT be fired for speaking on behalf of coworkers in order to improve work conditions, or for objecting to something illegal, but you should make sure you are protected BEFORE you speak out.
If you have questions about your rights in your Florida workplace, or think your rights have been violated in your place of employment, contact the experienced Employment Law attorneys at Lancaster & Eure today, to schedule your free consultation.