Employees fired for wearing orange to work

Florida law firm thought employees were protesting working conditions, but they claim it was for fun
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 04/26/2012

Fourteen employees of a Florida law firm are all out of a job — because they all wore orange to work on a Friday last month.

On March 16, the employees showed up for work at the law offices of Elizabeth R. Wellborn in Fort Lauderdale, all wearing orange shirts. They claim it was because it was payday and they were going to attend a happy hour event after work, and the colour would be a way of identifying them as a group.

However, the employees were gathered together and told the firm thought they were wearing orange in order to protest rules that had been implemented in the workplace. The new rules included prohibitions on speaking to co-workers above their cubicles and going to the break room when not on a scheduled break. The employees were told to pack up and leave the office. Though an executive at the firm reportedly said anyone wearing orange for an “innocent reason” should speak up, the employees were still fired.

Employment in Florida is “at-will,” meaning employers can fire employees for any reason, unless an employment contract or legislation specifically prohibits it. However, had the employees actually been wearing orange to protest working conditions, it would have been illegal to fire them. U.S. labour legislation protects employees’ right to discuss and complain about working conditions without losing their jobs.

Three of the workers have been rehired by the firm, and six have hired a lawyer to investigate their legal options.

"Everybody who can be fired for no reason is an 'orange American,'" Donna Ballman, the lawyer representing the six workers, told ABC News. "Everybody that can be fired for wearing an orange shirt to work should be outraged by this."

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