Florida labor laws are said not to be very helpful for employees. That’s mostly because Florida is an “at will” employment state. In Florida, unless there is an existing contract, any hiring is presumed to be “at will” (i.e., the employer is free to terminate employees for “good cause,” “bad cause,” or “no cause at all”). Likewise, the employee is free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work without any consequences. There are exceptions the at will employment doctrine that mostly center around unlawful discrimination and/or retaliation.
Employees in Florida cannot be discriminated against based on certain “protected categories.” (i.e., race, national origin, religion, gender, age or handicap). What that means is that an employer cannot treat an employee differently (usually in an adverse way) based on the employee being a member of one or more of these protected categories. In addition, an employer cannot take any adverse action against you if you oppose any unlawful activity by your employer (Whistleblower) or if you complain about what you perceive to be discriminatory conduct by your employer towards you. Retaliation cases are usually easier to prove than any underlying discrimination case. That’s most likely because the “discriminators” oftentimes are very good at covering their tracks. However, when an employee has a reasonable belief that he’s been discriminated against, and reports the belief to the employer (which eventually leads to termination or demotion), causation is much easier to show.
Certain laws have their own anti-retaliation protection built in. For example, if you complain to your employer about not receiving overtime or the proper minimum wage, you are protected by the anti-retaliation clause of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The damages in FLSA actions can be steep for the employer because the statute allows an aggrieved employee to recover double damages. In a retaliation situation, that could be two times the lost wages as a result of the termination or demotion.
Both discrimination and retaliation cases can be very difficult to prove. If you feel that you are being discriminated against or that your employer is retaliating against you, then you should document as much of the behavior as possible. Save your emails, make notes, keep a journal, whatever you can do to help yourself remember what occurred. More importantly, consult with a labor and employment lawyer in your area as soon as you can. One of the things that I see from potential clients is that they don’t retain important documents that could help prove their case. Another thing that I see is that employees voluntarily quit their jobs when they are being treated badly. Again, consult an attorney before you voluntarily quit. Doing so will give you more leverage of you hire an attorney to negotiate a separation package.
If you have a potential overtime or minimum wage problem, you will definitely want to consult with an attorney. At the very least, you will want to keep detailed records of the hours that you work. Many of today’s jobs are mostly computer based. Each time you touch a key on your computer it is possible to determine the exact time that it occurred. Most people log into a company intranet, or log on to the internet when they first arrive at the job. You could send yourself an email when you arrive in the morning, leave and come back for your break, and when you leave for the night. This way you can time stamp your clock in/out times. If your company utilizes time cards, you should try and make copies of them before you turn them in.
Other records that are relevant in FLSA cases are pay records. You should keep copies of all of your pay records and match them up with your time records. Many employers shave time (maybe a few minutes per day) from your hours. However, a few minutes per day, times 50 or 60 employees, can amount to a significant amount of money over the course of several weeks or even months. Written job descriptions and work related memos or emails are important if you’ve been misclassified as exempt, which happens very often. One more time, if you feel that you are owed some type of wages, contact an attorney and find out what your rights are.
With a little common sense and some preventative measures, you can maximize your protection under Florida labor laws.