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Orange shirt firings exhibit unjust Florida legislation

In Florida, you can be legally fired for wearing an orange shirt. Under the doctrine of at-will employment, it’s possible to be fired for something as arbitrary as wearing a sherbet colored top if your employer deems it a worthy reason.

Executives at the Deerfield Beach law firm of Elizabeth R. Wellborn, P.A., utilized this law when they fired 14 employees two weeks ago simply for wearing orange shirts. A group of employees had been wearing the shirts for several Fridays “so they’d look like a group when they went out for happy hour,” according to the Sun Sentinel.

Executives said there had been a previous protest involving orange shirts. Furthermore, they believed that because the employees were all wearing orange, the workers must have been involved in this vague and undefined protest and should, of course, be fired.

This incident demonstrates the unnecessary extremity of the law. Legislators in Florida, and in every state, should reevaluate laws, especially those along the lines of the at-will employment laws.

There was no office policy against wearing orange shirts. Perhaps the executives of the law firm were simply trying to keep a diversity of clothing from entering the workplace. Maybe they saw the orange shirts spreading like a plague and decided to root it out, before the last boring striped tie and sullen face disappeared. Possibly, they just don’t like happy hour.

We at the Tartan are inclined to think they saw this orange-shirted trend and decided to grab an opportunity to cut a little fat from the company. Florida is one of the few states that still practices a very rudimentary at-will employment doctrine: The state allows an employer to discharge his employees “for a good reason, for a bad reason or even for the wrong reason, as long as it’s not an unlawful reason,” according to Eric Gabrielle, a Florida labor and employment lawyer.

Other states have moved past this archaic doctrine by adding various exceptions and implied contracts that help level the employer-employee playing field. These exceptions protect employees from employer retaliation if they were to report on illegal company activity or if an implied contract’s existence can be proven.

Florida has no such protections for its employees, and instances such as the mystifying mass firing of 14 law firm employees are a strong indicator that the state might want to rethink things.