Wrongful Termination And Florida Workers Compensation Law

If you’ve been injured on the job, you may have concerns about whether you’ll lose your job as a result.  Such fears over loss of employment resulted in some employees injured in the course and scope of their employment from properly reporting the accident to their employer.  Before you were injured on the job, the nature of the relationship with your employer might have been described as positive and rewarding.  After a work related accident, the nature of that same relationship may become more hostile.  This change in work environment does not occur in every case.  There are examples of individuals sustaining a job injury and not experiencing any negative impact to their employment status.  If you believe your work environment has changed for the worst, or have questions about whether you are being treated fairly, a consultation with our office is free.

Fortunately, Florida law prevents an employer from retaliating against an employee who suffers an injury on the job.  Fla. Stat. §440.205 provides that “no employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee by reason of such employee’s valid claim for compensation or attempt to claim compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Law.”  Actual termination from employment is not necessary for a plaintiff to bring a retaliation claim under the statute.  The aforementioned statutory provision clearly states that no employer may “threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee” who plans to file a workers’ compensation claim. Furthermore, the statute is available to an individual who may have been discharged for other reasons in addition to pursuing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.  Wrongful termination of employment in violation of public policy can be accurately characterized as an intentional tort. Smith v. Atlas Off-Shore Boat Serv., Inc., 653 F.2d 1057, 1064 (5th Cir.1981).   Because the nature of the plaintiff’s cause of action lies in tort, this court should utilize tort damages in determining the extent of recovery. Harless v. First Nat’l Bank, 289 S.E.2d 692, 701 (W. Va. 1982).

If the facts of your case support filing a retaliatory discharge claim, you may be entitled to recover lost wages, lost earning capacity, and medical benefits.  Florida courts have held that an employer violating the anti-retaliation provisions of the statute committed an intentional “tort” or wrongful act. This creates the possibility of additional liability for emotional distress for which there is a four-year statute of limitations period for bringing such retaliation claims. Scott v. Otis Elevator Co., 524 So 2d 642 (Fla. 1988).

When establishing the necessary elements for a claim of retaliatory discharge under the Florida workers’ compensation statute, an injured employee must show: 1) that they engaged in a statutorily protected activity; (2) suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the adverse action was in some way related to the protected activity.  Humphrey v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 192 F.Supp.2d 1371 (S.D. Fla. 2002).  An employee will be deemed to have shown a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action when they have provided evidence that: (1) the employer became aware of the protected conduct; and (2) there was a close temporal proximity between that awareness and the subsequent job termination.

To avoid liability, an employer must offer a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. If provided, the burden of proof reverts back to the employee to establish that the employer’s reason is merely a pretext with no factual basis.  The employee’s burden of proof includes establishing that the alleged reason for the termination is not the true motivating factor involved in the termination.  Alternatively, the employee can establish that the employer’s reason is lacking in being sufficient enough to motivate the decision to terminate their employment.

It is important to understand that Florida employment relationships have long been determined according to the traditional “at-will” employment doctrine. An “at will,” employment relationship is defined as one, “where the term of employment is discretionary with either party, and either party may terminate the relationship at any time and for any reason. Smith v. Piezo Technology and Professional Administrators, 427 So. 2d 182 (Fla. 1983).  No action may be maintained for breach of the employment contract.  DeMarco v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., 384 So. 2d 1253 (Fla. 1980).   Critical to understanding the nature of the employment “at will,” doctrine is understanding that filing a workers’ compensation claim will not prevent your employer from justifiably terminating your position for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons; such as failure to perform. Though you may be able to establish the grounds for a claim of retaliation based on timing of events along with additional evidence in support of the termination being wrongful and retaliatory in nature, such claims can be complex and fact intensive.  Consultations with the Dolman Law Group regarding worker’s compensation benefits, personal injury claims, or any other legal matter, are free.  We can be reached at (727) 853-6275.

Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652
(727) 853-6275