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Understanding exceptions to at-will employment

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Your employees are among your company’s most valuable assets. One (often welcome) risk of having a good team is that one can leave to pursue new opportunities. Such is one of the elements you (as an employer) have to deal with due to Florida being an at-will employment state.

Many people think that the doctrine of at-will employment only favors employers. Yet as you (as well as many of our past clients here at Kurkin Forehand Brandes LLP) can attest to, the doctrine also leaves you constantly facing turnover. There may indeed be times, however, where circumstances dictate you exercise your company’s at-will employment rights to reduce your staff.

Implied exceptions to at-will employment

Taking the aforementioned action can lead to accusations of wrongful termination. Knowing the exceptions to at-will employment can help prepare you to respond to such claims. Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, two of these exceptions deal with implications. The first is if one of your employees believes they have an implied contract of employment. They can typically only make this case, however, if you have made statements implying a guarantee of employment if they meet a certain standard (or such an implication exists in your policies and procedures).

The second implication is the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. This may come up if an employee believes their termination occurred so you would not have to fulfill a promised benefit (such as paying a commission or retirement benefits).

Violations of public policy

The final common law exception to at-will employment is terminations constituting a violation of public policy. Essentially, unless you terminate an employee as a means of retaliation, a dismissed employee cannot make such a claim.