Right to Work or Work at Will?
Small business owners often are confused by the language of employment law in Florida. We are both a “right to work” state and have “at will employment.” Here is a little guidance to help clear up any confusion.
Florida is a “right-to-work” state. That means that we have a statute that prohibits agreements between labor unions and employers requiring employees to join unions, pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The Florida right to work law is embedded in the State Constitution at Article 1 § 6, and states:
“The right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization. The right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively shall not be denied or abridged. Public employees shall not have the right to strike.”
Chapter 447 of the Florida Statutes further governs unionization of employees and provides that employees may self-organize but cannot be required to participate in any labor union. In other words, “right to work” does not mean that state law protects the right of an employee or job seeker to any particular job, but only that unionized work places cannot exclude non-union workers or require non-union employees to pay dues or fees to the unions.
Instead, in Florida, we have what is known as “at will employment.” That means that an employee is only employed at the will of the employer, and there is no guarantee of future employment once hired. An employee can be terminated at will, for any reason or no reason at all, and no explanation has to be given for termination.
Nonetheless, employers have to comply with federal Equal Opportunity Employment and other non-discrimination laws. You still cannot make hiring or firing decisions, or create a hostile work environment forcing an employee to quit, based on race, gender, national origin or, in most cases, age or disability status. If the termination was not for cause (e.g. tardiness, disobedience, theft, etc.), you most likely will have to pay out the employee’s unemployment claim.
If you are a small business owner/operator and you have questions about how to protect yourself from labor and employment liability, please contact Meehle Law today to schedule a consultation. We’d love to help.