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Merry Christmas! – You’re Fired

Merry Christmas! – You’re Fired

As Christmas approaches you begin to purchase some gifts, and are looking forward to getting a few days off to celebrate the holiday season.  A call comes in from your Supervisor requesting your presence in his/her office the week before Christmas.  In great anticipation you are hoping that he/she will talk about your year-end or Christmas bonus and a raise for the coming year. Instead you hear the 3  most dreaded  words, “YOU ARE TERMINATED.”   Immediately you are asked to go back to your office to pack up your personal effects under the watchful eye of a person from human resources. They then take your keys and security badge and escort you out of the building.

Finally after a few hours, the realization that you have been terminated sinks in, and you google “Can I really be fired just before Christmas even though I did a good job this year ?  Do I at least get my Christmas Bonus ?”  

Somehow you landed in this article and are looking for answers.  Listed below are some common questions and answers with regard to the termination of an employee. If you need further advice contact a good labor and employment attorney

Can an Employer terminate me before Christmas? 

Florida continues to be governed by the common law doctrine of “Employment at Will.” Therefore, unless you have a contract for a definite term of employment which limits the reasons for terminating, your employment is subject to termination by your Employer at any time. While Employment at Will allows an Employer to terminate someone without cause, they cannot terminate an Employee for the following reasons:

  • Filing a Workers Compensation claim;
  • Retaliation for reporting illegal activity “whistleblowing”;
  • Filing a claim for failure to pay wages or overtime;
  • Termination based upon race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or mental status;
  • Termination for exercising any federally protected rights such as unionization, family and medical leave, or filing a sexual harassment complaint.

Am I entitled to my Christmas Bonus?

Under  Florida law any accrued or earned compensation is usually payable even if you are terminated.  The usual example is any unused vacation time or PTO. You are also entitled to payment of any earned and unpaid wages, as well as, any overtime hours you may have worked.  When it comes to bonuses, the important question is whether the bonus is part of an established  compensation formula or discretionary.  The Employer’s policy/handbook, as well as, their past practice in similar situations that could determine whether you are entitled to that bonus. Additionally,  if you have an employment contract this may also be outlined in  it.

Am I eligible to receive some kind of severance?

Upon termination Employees do not have an inherent or automatic right to severance pay upon separation from employment.  Nevertheless, you may be entitled to severance pay under certain circumstances.

First of all, if you have an employment contract or if your Employer has an established policy or practice of paying severance, you may be entitled to severance.  An  Employer may also offer severance as a way to negotiate with you in order for you to agree to release them from any claims relating to your termination or employment.  If your Employer doesn’t have a policy specifying the formula for determining your severance package, you may have some room to negotiate the amount of severance.  Generally, there are certain factors that go into the calculation of severance that is offered:

  • Number of years you have worked for your Employer.
  • Your status or position within the Company (management or executive).
  • Company size.
  • Whether you had severance listed as part of your employment contract.
  • Time it may take you based upon the factors named above to acquire a job.

Do not immediately sign a severance package offer as it may be negotiable.

When a person is terminated they are expected to attempt to actively seek to find another job. However, if you are terminated before the holidays, the likelihood of finding  a comparable position in the near term is extremely low as Companies usually put off hiring decisions until late January  of the new year.  This issue should be addressed when negotiating a severance package.

Severance doesn’t always come in the form of cash.  Many Companies will extend health benefits for a period subsequent to termination.  This can help cover your medical expenses until you secure your next job and its health benefits.  Additionally, under the Federal Plant Closing Act of 1988, you may be entitled to severance under the law, if your Employer fails to give you the required 60 day notice of a plant closing or mass lay-off.

In most circumstances any severance paid will be conditioned upon a full and final release of any legal claims you may have against your Employer.  Accordingly, we strongly recommend that you consult with qualified labor attorney before executing any severance agreement.

After being terminated, we suggest that you write down everything that happened leading up to your termination, and what was said to you at the time of termination, while still fresh in your memory.  After doing so, we highly recommend seeking a labor and employment attorney, as he/she will be able to address your specific case in more detail.  Finally, you should never feel forced into signing a document on the spot, especially when you are carrying the emotional weight of being terminated.  Ask to take the severance package information home and review it prior to signing the document so that you can make sure you have a clear understanding of its terms.