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What Does It Mean to Be an At-Will Employee in Florida?

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Archive: Aug 2020

What Does It Mean to Be an At-Will Employee in Florida?

When most people seek to gain employment, they are probably not thinking about whether or not they are an “at-will” employee. However, it is important to understand that California is an “at-will” employment state. This means that either you or your employer may decide to end the employment arrangement at any time and for just about any reason. However, there are certain ways in which termination could violate various state or federal laws. Here, we want to discuss what it means to be an at-will employee in California, as well as some of the reasons why it may be illegal to end a person’s employment.

Most Jobs in California Are “At-Will”

In general, most jobs in the state of California will be considered at-will. This type of employment has benefits, both for the employee and the employer. For the employee, this means that they can leave their job at any time and for any reason. They owe no obligation to let the employer know that they are leaving (though giving notice is customary), and an employee must be paid for any time they have worked already, even if they do quit their job.

Conversely, an employer generally owes no obligation to an employee. Employers can terminate workers anytime they wish and for almost any reason. While it may not seem fair, a person could lose their job for the simple reason that their employer does not like the T-shirt that an employee is wearing for their off-duty social media posts.

What if There Was an Employment Contract?

One of the major alternatives to at-will employment is if there is employment by contract. Employment contracts are recognized under California law, and both the employer and the employee must abide by the terms of that contract. Typically, employment contracts will include a certain length of time for the employment as well as an agreed-upon compensation amount. Employment contracts may even include severance agreements that the employer is required to abide by. If an employee in California signs a contract, then they are generally not an at-will employee.

Employer Policies May Affect Termination

Employers often make use of handbooks or other written policies that layout terms of disciplinary processes and termination procedures. These employee handbooks or policies will generally be construed to mean they are contracts between the employer and the employees. These handbooks and policies may state that an employer can terminate an employee for “any reason” or they may lay out a step-by-step process for termination.

An Employee Cannot Be Fired for an Illegal Reason

Both state and federal laws prevent employers from terminating an employee based on certain discriminatory reasons. This includes discrimination based on a person’s color, race, national origin, age, disability, gender, pregnancy status, marital status, religion, and more. It is also illegal to fire an employee if that employee has raised concerns about workplace safety, illegal activities in the workplace, unfair wage practices, or discrimination/harassment in the workplace. An employer may not terminate an employee for requesting allowable leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or for filing a valid workers’ compensation claim.

Speak to an Attorney

If you believe you have been terminated from your employment for an illegal reason, you should seek assistance from a skilled Orange County work injury lawyer as soon as possible. These cases can become incredibly complex, but an attorney can conduct an investigation into your entire case. You may be entitled to significant compensation if you have been wrongfully terminated. Just because California is an at-will state, this does not give employers the right to act illegally.

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When Should You Contact a Workers’ Comp Attorney?

If you or somebody you love sustains a workplace injury or illness, you should be entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits. The workers’ compensation system in California is a “no-fault” system, which means that an employee is entitled to benefits regardless of who caused the injury. There are very few circumstances in which a person is not eligible for workers’ comp benefits after sustaining an injury at work. However, workers’ compensation insurance carriers and employers can be incredibly difficult to deal with, and it may be necessary to secure assistance from a skilled Orange County workers’ compensation lawyer to help with your case.

How Soon Should You Hire a Workers’ Compensation Attorney?

The absolute best time to seek assistance from a workers’ compensation attorney in California is as soon as you have sustained a workplace injury or illness. An attorney with experience handling these cases will be in the best position to guide you through this entire process in order to secure full compensation for your losses.

Your first step in this process will be to seek medical assistance as soon as possible after your injury. This is recommended even if your work injury is relatively minor. You should also report the incident to your employer as soon as possible and no later than 30 days from the date the injury occurs or 30 days from when your doctor tells you that you have sustained a work-related injury or illness.

By working with an attorney early in the process, you can be sure that your claim will be filed on time. However, even if you do not secure an attorney right after your injury, there are various reasons why you may need to consider doing so. This could include:

  • If your employer disputes your injury in any way.
  • If your employer is demanding that you return to work.
  • If you are unhappy about your medical care.
  • If the insurance carrier is delaying your benefits.
  • If your claim is denied.

You should also consider working with an attorney if you feel uncomfortable handling your claim in any way. This process can become complicated, particularly if you think the employer or insurance carrier is looking for a reason to deny your benefits. If the insurance carrier pushes back on your claim, you will need to be in constant contact with your lawyer. Insurance carriers will typically do whatever they can to avoid making payments in these cases.

If You Have a Workers’ Compensation Hearing

A workers’ compensation hearing is not always going to be necessary. However, if the insurance carrier or employer denies a claim or is not willing to pay enough to handle your expenses, your case may need to go through the appeals process and possibly escalate your case to a workers’ comp hearing. The first step in the workers’ compensation appeals process in California is a mediation hearing, which is an informal conference. In these situations, a neutral third party will attempt to help resolve the dispute between you and your insurance carrier.

However, if mediation is unsuccessful, the case will need to go before a workers’ compensation judge to be heard. At a hearing, you and your insurance carrier will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony to the judge. After the hearing is completed, the judge will review all the evidence and issue a written decision. If you do not agree with the judge’s decision, you will be able to appeal to the First District Court of Appeals.

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What is Wrongful Termination Under California Law?

There is a difference between being fired for a job and being wrongfully terminated. While being fired is not terribly uncommon, a person who is wrongfully terminated is one who has lost their job for a reason considered illegal in the eyes of the law. The person who has been wrongfully terminated may be entitled to significant compensation through a civil wrongful termination lawsuit. It is important to understand what wrongful termination is in California before deciding whether to move forward with the lawsuit. It is strongly advised that you work with a skilled Orange County workers’ comp attorney before making any decisions regarding your case.

What Is Considered Wrongful Termination in California?

There are various reasons for termination that may be considered “wrongful” and thereby illegal in California. While FL may be an at-will employment state, if a person loses their job for the following reasons, it may result in a wrongful termination case:

  • Discriminatory actions. Both federal and California state laws prohibit certain types of discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination based on a person’s age, race, disability, genetic information, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, pregnancy status, gender, and more. Terminations based on any of these factors are illegal.
  • Whistleblowing or reporting retaliation. Employees have the right to report any allegations of illegal or questionable conduct on the part of their employer. These reports may be internal or they may be to external regulatory agencies or law enforcement. Employees cannot be terminated for exercising their whistleblowing rights. Employees can also not be retaliated against for reporting instances of discrimination or sexual harassment within the workplace.
  • Refusing to participate/sexual harassment. There are times when employees terminate workers for their refusal to participate in sexual advances, sexual harassment, discrimination, or other illegal workplace activities.
  • Family and medical leave. It is illegal to terminate an employee who asks for or takes leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This includes maternity leave as allowed under the law, leave taken to care for a family member who is ill, and leave taken if an employee sustains a significant injury or illness.
  • Wage or overtime disputes. It is illegal for an employee to fire a worker because an employer owes them wages or because an employee has raised concerns about the failure to pay minimum wage or overtime.
  • Workers’ compensation claims. Employers are not allowed to terminate somebody because they filed a legitimate workers’ compensation claim after sustaining a workplace injury or illness.

What Type of Compensation Is Available for a Wrongful Termination Case?

There may be various types of compensation available to those who are successful in their civil wrongful termination case. This could include:

  • Back and front pay
  • Coverage of any unpaid overtime
  • Reinstatement to a job if necessary and desired
  • Pain and suffering damages
  • Emotional distress images
  • Possible punitive damages against an employer

It is incredibly important to work with a skilled California employment law attorney if you think you have a valid wrongful termination case. These claims can become incredibly difficult, but an attorney will have the resources and legal experience necessary to conduct a full investigation into your case.

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How Does Severance Pay Work in California?

Severance pay is compensation that employers provide to employee upon termination of their employment. Under California law, businesses are generally not required to offer severance pay to a terminated employee. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Labor does not generally require that employers offer severance pay to employees. However, that does not mean there are no circumstances in which a person in California will receive severance pay. If there is an existing contract that outlines a severance pay agreement between an employer and an employee, this creates a legal obligation to satisfy the payment terms.

Understanding Severance Pay

Severance pay, commonly referred to as a severance package, is compensation that an employer will pay to the worker after the worker is terminated, or is about to be terminated, from their job. Severance pay is typically made through monetary means, though it could include extended benefits such as retirement account payments, stock options, health insurance benefits, help finding a new job, or assistance in training for a new vocation.

In California, severance pay also includes paying out any unused paid time off (PTO), sick leave, or vacation pay.

Severance Agreements Often Involve Protections for the Employer

In many cases, a severance payment will be made only upon the employee agreeing not to pursue any future legal action against the employer. Severance agreements will often include the following:

  • Release of legal claims. If there is any potential for future legal claims from the employee against the employer, a severance pay agreement may include a release of all future claims. This could include claims of discrimination against the employee by the employer.
  • Confidentiality and/or non-compete restrictions. Confidentiality and non-compete restrictions could be included in a severance agreement in California. Specifically, these clauses may request that an employee not divulge any proprietary information about the employer’s internal operations. Non-compete agreements usually limit the employee’s ability to secure future employment in a similar business for a certain period of time or in a certain geographic area. Non-compete agreements are enforceable in California as long as they are considered reasonable and used to protect a legitimate business interest.
  • Mutual non-disparagement clauses. This type of clause will typically provide both the employee and the employer a guarantee that one party will not speak negatively about the other.
  • Neutral reference or reference letter. A severance agreement could include the requirement for a neutral reference or a reference letter. A neutral reference means that an employer may provide only the dates of employment and position the employee worked in to any future requesting employers. A reference letter goes a step further and provides that same information as well as a positive statement on behalf of the employee.

Do You Need an Attorney to Help With a Severance Agreement?

If you are being offered a severance agreement by your employer, it is strongly advised that you seek assistance from an Orange County workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can review the terms of a severance agreement to ensure that you are being treated fairly by your soon to be former employer. While severance agreements are not required in California, any severance agreement that is offered or made is considered a legal agreement between two parties. Therefore, you should have a legal expert review the terms of the agreement.

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What Types of Damages Can You Recover in an Injury Case?

Sustaining an injury can be a major setback for a victim. Injuries are more than just a simple inconvenience. Anybody who has been injured in an accident caused by the careless or negligent actions of another person should be able to recover compensation for their losses. While many injuries caused by other parties are relatively minor, that is not always the case. A personal injury can result in significant financial disruption for a victim and their family.

If you or somebody you care about has been injured by the negligence of another party, you may wonder how much compensation you will receive. Here, we want to focus on the various types of compensation that may be recoverable in the aftermath of sustaining an injury.

There Are Various Types of Compensation Available and Personal Injury Cases

In the aftermath of sustaining an injury caused by the careless or negligent actions of another person, business, or entity, a person may be entitled to various economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Economic damages are those that are considered calculable. That is, an injury victim and their Orange County personal injury attorney will be able to calculate these expenses by gathering various bills, receipts, and pay stubs. Some of the most common economic damages include:

  • Medical bills. This includes past, current, and future medical bills caused by the injury. This will also include coverage of prescription medications, medical devices, physical therapy and rehabilitation, and more.
  • Lost wages. If an injury victim is unable to work due to the injury, they should be able to recover 100% of their lost wages. If a person is unable to return to work in the same position and therefore must take a lower salary, they should be paid the difference in salary between their old and new job. Finally, if a person is permanently disabled and cannot work, they should be adequately compensated for the loss of future wages.
  • Any other out-of-pocket expenses. There may be various out-of-pocket expenses that an injury victim incurs, including the cost of assistance to perform household chores or yard work that their injury prevents them from doing.

Non-Economic Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Non-economic damages are those that are going to be a bit more difficult to calculate than the compensation mentioned above. These damages are often referred to as pain and suffering damages that simply do not come with any bills or receipts. Non-economic damages are going to cover the emotional and psychological injuries as well as physical pain that a person sustains as a result of their physical injuries.

In many cases, a “multiplier method” will be used to calculate non-economic damages. This means that an injury victim’s total economic damages will be added up and then multiplied by a set number (typically 1.5 to 4) to arrive at a fair amount for their pain and suffering damages.

Property Damages

If a personal injury case also includes damage to property, such as a motor vehicle, the victim should be able to recover compensation to either replace or repair the property.

Punitive Damages

If an injury case involves extreme carelessness, gross negligence, or intentional actions on the part of the defendant, then punitive damages may be awarded. The damages are not intended to cover a victim’s losses. Rather, they are designed to punish the defendant to ensure that this type of behavior does not occur again.

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When Can I Expect a Settlement Check?

If you or somebody you care about has been injured due to the careless or negligent actions of another party, it may be necessary to seek compensation through an insurance settlement or a personal injury lawsuit. The vast majority of personal injury cases are resolved through settlements with insurance carriers. While these cases are not always easy, personal injury victims need to know how quickly they can expect to receive their settlement check when their matter is resolved.

The Settlement Process Is Not Always Straightforward

Once a final settlement amount is agreed upon with the insurance carrier for a personal injury case, there are various administrative steps that the personal injury victim needs to be aware of.

  1. Signing releases and other documents. When a settlement is reached with the insurance carrier, the legal teams involved will typically draft a series of release forms that have various terms and conditions that your attorney should read over carefully. Usually, signing a release will mean that you are giving up the right to pursue any future damages for your injuries related to this case.
  2. Insurance company processes the release and cuts a check. After the insurance carrier receives your release forms, they will typically process your settlement check. This check will usually be payable to both you and your attorney, and your attorney will likely be mailed the check.
  3. Your lawyer deposits the check into an escrow account to pay liens. Your lawyer will then deposit the money into an escrow account that is only temporary. This is a part of the settlement process that will allow money to be distributed to the appropriate parties. For example, your attorney may dissent portions of your money to:
    • Cover any unpaid medical bills
    • Your insurance carrier if they covered any of the expenses regarding medical treatment
    • Medicare or Medicaid if they covered any of the expenses related to the accident
  4. Your lawyer will deduct their legal fees and costs. In most personal injury cases, an attorney will handle the case on a contingency fee basis at no upfront costs to the client. However, this is the point where the attorney will deduct their legal fees and expenses they paid to reach a settlement for your case.
  5. You receive your final settlement amount. After all other expenses have been paid out of the settlement, you should receive the remainder of your settlement money. While this may seem like an arduous process, it is important to understand that a settlement with insurance carriers is typically the quickest way to resolve a personal injury case. Working with an Orange County personal injury lawyer is the best way to ensure that you receive maximum compensation for your case.

What About Structured Settlements?

Structured settlements are an arrangement that involves a victim receiving portions of their settlement over longer periods of time. Typically, a structured settlement occurs when the victim is a minor or has sustained a catastrophic injury that involves ongoing medical treatment. Structured settlements are paid and a guaranteed amount on a fixed schedule. For example, an injury victim may receive a portion of their settlement every month or annually.

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The Timeline of a Typical Personal Injury Case

If you or somebody you care about is injured by the careless or negligent actions of another person, business, or entity, you may wonder how long it will take for you to secure the compensation you need. The timeline of a personal injury case will vary depending on the circumstances related to each particular situation. There are many factors that go into successfully resolving a personal injury claim. Here, we want to discuss the typical timeline of a personal injury case.

The Steps of a Personal Injury Process

The timeline of a personal injury case begins the moment an accident or injury occurs. The first step that an injury victim needs to take is to seek medical attention immediately. By seeking immediate medical attention, an injury victim is linking their injuries to the incident, giving them a stronger personal injury claim.

  1. Consult with an attorney. You should seek a free consultation with an attorney as soon as possible if you are injured by somebody else’s actions. An Orange County personal injury attorney will be able to outline all of the steps that you should take to secure maximum compensation.
  2. Investigation and medical records. With or without an attorney, you will need to gather all the evidence necessary to prove the liability of the other party. This includes any video or photo surveillance, any accident reports, and any statements from eyewitnesses. You will also need to gather all of your medical records for the treatment you have undergone so far.
  3. Filing an insurance claim and demanding a settlement. It is generally necessary to file a claim with the insurance carrier of the at-fault party, whether this is a car accident case, a slip and fall incident, or some other type of injury claim. Most personal injury cases are resolved through insurance carrier settlements, though insurance carriers can be notoriously difficult to deal with.
  4. Filing a lawsuit. If the insurance carriers deny a claim or fail to offer a fair amount in a settlement, it may be necessary to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent party.
  5. Discovery. The first step in a personal injury lawsuit will be the discovery phase in which both sides will continue to gather evidence and share this evidence with the other party. During this process, one or both sides will begin to realize the strengths and weaknesses of their cases. Often, a case is settled at this point.
  6. Mediation or arbitration. If neither side has reached a settlement, a judge may order the parties to undergo mediation or arbitration for their case. Again, most cases are settled before they go to trial.
  7. Trial. If the defendant in the case still does not offer a fair settlement, the case will go in front of a jury who will hear the evidence presented to them. A jury will then render their decision and decide on adequate compensation if necessary.

Cases that are resolved through insurance carriers before a lawsuit is filed will generally conclude much quicker than cases that officially proceed to litigation. A personal injury case settled through insurance carriers may last a few months or up to a year, but cases that go to trial may not be resolved for well over a year or more.

Regardless of the timeline for your particular personal injury case, it is incredibly important to work with a skilled personal injury lawyer. An attorney will have the experience and resources necessary to help you every step of the way. Your attorney can advise you as to what path is best for your case. While the timeline for a full trial may indeed be longer, the final settlement could be much higher depending on the facts of your particular case.

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Symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability across the country. These injuries occur in a variety of ways, and they can leave victims and families with immense pain and suffering. A traumatic brain injury is generally the result of a sudden blow or bump to the head that disrupts normal brain functioning. TBIs can range in severity from mild to severe, and the effects of these injuries can be either short- or long-term. In some cases, a TBI victim is left with lifelong disabilities.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries

A mild traumatic brain injury is referred to as a concussion. These injuries are incredibly common, particularly amongs those who play sports. In general, a concussion involves a change in a person’s mental status or a loss of consciousness that lasts for less than 30 minutes. Concussions generally reveal no obvious damage on a CAT scan or an MRI. However, concussion victims can still experience a range of symptoms, including the following:

  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Slurred speech
  • Vision issues
  • Anxiety
  • Change in sense of smell or taste
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes
  • Inattentiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea
  • Seizures

Most concussion victims will not experience all of these symptoms at one time, and these symptoms may not appear until days after the injury occurs. It is important for anybody who receives a sharp blow or bump to the head to seek medical assistance in order to determine whether they have sustained a concussion.

Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries

Moderate traumatic brain injuries typically involve many of the same symptoms described above, though they will not go away as quickly, and they could worsen over time. Severe traumatic brain injuries generally involve the loss of consciousness for six or more hours. The impact of a severe TBI will depend on the severity of the initial injury and how quickly a person receives adequate medical care. A severe TBI often results in permanent loss or a lessening of cognitive or sensory functions for victims. This can include a person’s:

  • Smell
  • Speech
  • Taste
  • Vision
  • Attention
  • Comprehension
  • Concentration
  • Memory
  • Perception
  • Processing
  • Hearing
  • Impulsiveness
  • Language processing

Unfortunately, severe traumatic brain injuries can also result in significant emotional and psychological changes for the victim. This can include the following:

  • Emotional dependence
  • Irritability
  • Lack of awareness
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood swings

Finally, a severe traumatic brain injury can result in significant physical changes for victims. This can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Paralysis
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Lost bladder and bowel control
  • Appetite changes
  • Chronic pain
  • Regulation of body temperature
  • Sleep disorders
  • Seizures

The treatment for a traumatic brain injury will vary depending on the circumstances surrounding each particular situation. Some people are able to make significant recoveries after undergoing rehabilitation and physical therapy. However, some traumatic brain injury victims may require lifelong medical care as a result of their injury and subsequent disabilities.

If you or a loved one have suffered a brain injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact an Orange County personal injury lawyer for legal assistance.

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