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can an employer sue an employee

While it is less common for an employer to sue an employee than vice versa, there are many valid legal reasons that an employer may bring a cause of action against an employee (or ex-employee) and win. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many people hold over 10 jobs in their lifetime. There are many reasons to transition, but with the potential for many personalities and skillsets, you may find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation with an employee.

You may be wondering, Can an employer sue an employee? The answer is yes. It is worth understanding more about the most common reasons employers sue employees. 

Common Reasons an Employer Sues an Employee

In many cases, employees cannot be held personally liable for mistakes made in the course of their employment duties. But there are exceptions to this general rule. And there are also expectations that employees will not intentionally act in a way that is harmful to the company. 

Negligence

Can an employer sue an employee for negligence? Though frustrating, most of the time an employee is not liable for ordinary negligence or carelessness when performing their duties. But there are situations where negligence is so outside the scope of reasonableness that it constitutes a basis for legal action.

This is most likely when the negligent action causes damage or injury to a person or property. Because the circumstances of the action that caused harm are important in this determination, it is essential to consult an employment lawyer about the options available.

Defamation 

Can an employer sue an employee for defamation? If an employee spreads false information that hurts your business’s reputation, you have the legal right to hold them accountable. The following must be true to have a claim for defamation:

  • The employee made a false and defamatory statement about you or your business;
  • The lie was communicated to a third party;
  • The communication was not privileged;
  • They were at least negligent as to the truth of the statement made;
  • The lie caused you or your business actual harm. 

The statement has to be more than just an opinion. It has to be an assertion of something that is untrue. 

Property Theft

If an employee steals or destroys tangible property, they can be sued just like anyone else. In some cases, the employee may retain company property that is already in their possession, such as a company-owned laptop, camera, or other equipment that they used in the course of employment.

And keep in mind that more and more employees are using company property at their homes with the recent trend of increased remote working.

The non-return of company property may happen because the employee forgets to turn it in after termination or resignation, or it could be intentional. Make sure that you request the return of the equipment.

It is not unheard of for an employee to intentionally retain the property because they feel they were not adequately compensated for severance or final wages. This is considered illegal, and an employer may have grounds to sue for misappropriation or theft. 

Breach of Employment Agreement

Can an employer sue an employee for breach of contract? Florida, like many states, is an “at-will” employment state, which means that employees are generally not subject to an employment contract.

Employment agreements are used most often to secure highly skilled or specialized employees, or employees who have a stake in the company. Terms may require the employee to fulfill certain duties, restrict certain actions, or require a certain amount of notice upon leaving. 

Non-Compete Agreement

You do not want an employee immediately taking all the information they have learned during their course of employment and going to work for a competitor.

This is why non-compete agreements exist. They extend for a certain amount of time following the employee’s departure from your company.

If an employee breaches the non-compete agreement, the employer can request a court order to enforce the agreement. 

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

While employed with your company, employees owe a duty of loyalty to act in the best interest of the business. Breach of fiduciary duty could include a number of actions: 

  • Acting on behalf of another entity with contrary interests;
  • Acting in a way that benefits the employee at the expense of the employer;
  • Failing to disclose material information to the employer;
  • Disclosing confidential company information to a third party; or
  • Failing to use reasonable care to complete work responsibilities. 

An employee who personally took a business deal that should have been offered to the employer is liable for “usurpation of corporate opportunity.”

Saving up leads or opportunities to take to a new employer or for a personal venture is called “warehousing.”  Anytime an employee acts outside of the best interest of the company, you have a potential claim for breach of fiduciary duty. 

Tortious Interference

Can an employer sue an employee for tortious interference? In Florida, you can sue any third party for tortious interference. This happens most often when an employee or former employee uses their knowledge gained in the employment relationship to try and undercut the employer. 

Non-Disclosure Agreements

Non-disclosure agreements are also called confidentiality agreements. Depending on the position of your employee, they may have access to confidential or proprietary information.

Breach of confidentiality can be devastating for a company. Remedies may include a court order to prevent further disclosures and monetary damages for losses suffered because of the disclosure. 

Can an Employer Sue an Employee? 

These are only a handful of causes of action that allow an employer to sue an employee. Employers have a legal right to make sure that their employees are not acting in a way that harms the business. It is important to have a clear stance against such actions. 

The Florida employment lawyers at Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon represent companies and business owners of all sizes and work find solutions to help you maintain and optimize productivity while providing experienced legal representation.

We understand the Florida business law system and provide education for businesses and managers to help companies address issues even before they occur. Contact us to schedule your consultation. 

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