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Proving a Retaliatory Discharge

In general, a retaliatory discharge is any adverse employment act by an employer (termination being the most common) that is due to an employee’s engagement in protected activity. Despite the fact that federal and state laws clearly prohibit such behavior by employers, employees are often reluctant to bring retaliatory discharge claims.

Employment Law Basics

Tampa retaliation attorneys can explain that like most other states, Florida is what is deemed an at-will employment state, which means that absent an employment contract, an employee can be discharged at any time, for any reason or even for no reason at all. However, there are certain exceptions. Federal and state statutes protect employees from retaliation by their employers if the employee is engaged in a “protected activity.”

Protected Activity

It is important to realize that protections against retaliatory discharges are in some senses broader than those afforded under other federal anti-discrimination acts. For example, to engage in protected activity, the employee must have a reasonable, good-faith belief that the employer is engaging in unlawful conduct. In other instances, the employee must simply utilize leave or benefits that they are otherwise entitled to, e.g., Family and Medical Leave Act leave or making a valid claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits. Other examples include wage issues, including the payment of overtime and unpaid wages for off-the-clock work before and after scheduled shifts, break time and meal time.

Importantly, although the employee’s complaint must be reasonable and made in good faith, the employer ultimately need not be found in violation of the law for a retaliatory discharge to be upheld. However, in many instances investigated by Florida retaliation attorneys, the unlawful conduct the employer is allegedly engaged in is some form of discrimination protected by other federal laws.

Adverse Employment Act

While the most common adverse employment act is termination, the term also includes demotions, pay cuts, refusals to promote, stripping of benefits and many others. Florida retaliation attorneys stress that retaliation cases are even broader when it comes to adverse employment acts by employers. Specifically, in retaliation cases, an adverse employment act is any act by the employer that would dissuade a reasonable employee from engaging in protected activity or making or supporting a discrimination charge.

Elements of a Cause of Action for Workplace Retaliation

In most cases, a plaintiff seeking relief for retaliatory discharge must prove three elements:

  1. The employee engaged in protected activity;
  2. The employee suffered an adverse employment act, and
  3. There was a connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment act.

Although it is necessary to prove the employer knew the employee was engaged in the protected activity, the first two elements are typically without much dispute. However, the center of most retaliatory discharges is the connection between the employee’s activity and the discharge.

Proving the Connection

Seldom is there direct evidence of a retaliatory discharge; few employers, for instance, will write a letter explaining to an employee that he or she was let go because of a complaint regarding illegal activity in the company’s hiring policies. Rather, circumstantial evidence regarding the events (including the timing between the protected activity and adverse employment act) that led to the discharge typically forms the foundation of the claim. The employer will likely claim that the employee was fired for some reason other than participating in the protected activity, but that claim must have some factual basis. Ultimately, the employee/plaintiff has the burden of proving that the employer/defendant’s reason is not believable and that its true motive was retaliatory in nature.

Contact Our Florida Retaliation Attorneys for Legal Advice

Although employers hold many of the high cards in the workplace, employees have rights. For an understanding of what options you may have regarding your particular situation, call Florin Gray, a Florida retaliation attorneys group, at (727) 254-5255.

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