Q: Do I have a legal recourse for being fired from my job while I was on leave? I was with my father while he was in ICU.
I was employed with my employer for about 5 months. During my time there I was constantly being harassed by other employees then being called into HR and accused of the same. Last week, I went on emergency leave to go up to TN because I found out that my father was having heart surgery and was in the ICU. There was a 50/50 chance that he wouldn't make it out of surgery. While I was in TN my employer called me to inform me that my employment was being terminated due to an investigation that led to a finding that I was harassing other employees, even though I was one that was being harassed, singled out, and isolated when work assignments were handed out. Even when I would bring things to the attention of HR they would "investigate" and it would get turned back on me. This made for a very hostile work environment and as soon as they had the opportunity to do so, I was fired. Is there anything legally I can do about this situation?
A: First, if the company honestly fired you based on "a finding that you were harassing other employees," then you have no case. Second, if the company's reason for termination is false and you were really fired for your complaints of harassment, the next questions would be "was the harassment based on a statutorily protected characteristic" (such as race, gender, disability, etc.) and was it "severe or pervasive enough to alter a term or condition of employment." With respect to your medical leave question, you need to be employed at least one year to be covered under FMLA.
Unless you have a written employment contract your employer can do whatever they want to do, including terminating your employment. Why?
Because Florida is an “at-will” state, private employers are free to solicit, hire, promote, demote, suspend, terminate, reinstate, and rehire employees for any reason—or for no reason--at any time, i.e., “at will.”
Note: Employers cannot lawfully make any of these employment decisions solely based upon the employee’s race, gender, age, national origin, handicap, disability, religion, or whether single, married, or pregnant.
A: More information is needed. Was there any basis for the harassment you received from co-workers? Was it based on your status in a protected class, like race, religion, age, sex, national origin, or disability? If this is the case, and you were fired in retaliation for reporting the harassment, you may have a case. However, there is no recourse if your co-workers were just being mean. In an at-will state, your employer can fire you at any time for any reason. Speak with an experience employment discrimination attorney if you think you have the proof to back up a discrimination case.
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