Defend Yourself Against Wrongful Termination in California
The end of employment can happen in many ways. You may decide you want to quit, your employer may lay you off, the company may go out of business, or your boss may fire you.
Most of the time, the situation justifies the ending of employment, but in some cases, the employer is in the wrong. When this happens, it is wrongful termination.
The concept of wrongful termination in California is tricky. The laws in this area can be difficult when it comes to making a claim in court that your employer illegally fired you. Therefore, it requires the assistance of a trained attorney who is familiar with employment law to untangle the details and figure out if you have a case and how to present that case to the court.
Definition of Wrongful Termination
You can define wrongful termination as the ending of employment that violates the legal rights of the employee. There must be some law broken for it to be illegal.
What complicates this is that California is an at-will employment state. “At-will” means that you and your employer have the right to end the employment agreement at any time without any reason.
It is this law that lets you decide one day to simply stop showing up for work without your employer having any legal recourse. However, it is also this law that allows your employer to fire you at any time without having to justify why.
At-will employment also makes proving wrongful termination difficult because the burden will lie on you to prove there was something illegal at the heart of the decision. It is hard to do this when an employer knows what it is doing is wrong and takes care to cover its tracks.
Areas of Wrongful Termination
Wrongful termination in California and elsewhere typically occurs due to one of four things:
- Breaking a contract
- Violation of public policy
Breaking a contract
If you have an employment contract, your case will be generally easier when it comes to wrongful termination because the contract lays out the details of when the employer may let you go. When firing you, if your employer breaks the contract, then it would be a wrongful termination.
Discrimination occurs when your employer fires you due to a protected attribute. For example, if your employer fires you because you announce you are pregnant, then this is discrimination and constitutes wrongful termination because you have protection under pregnancy discrimination laws.
Retaliation is when your employer fires you because you did something it did not like. For example, if you report your employer to OSHA for a safety violation, your employer cannot use this as an excuse to fire you.
It could also occur due to exercising your rights. For example, if you take time off under the California Family Rights Act, your employer cannot fire you without subjecting itself to a wrongful termination claim.
Violation of Public Policy
This is similar to retaliation in that it typically is your employer’s way of responding to some action of yours. However, retaliation involves breaking a specific law, whereas a violation of public policy does not. It is often central to exercising a right.
For example, if you participate in a protest on the weekend outside of work, and your employer fires you for doing so, then this is a violation of public policy.
California Laws Specific to Wrongful Termination
There is a range of laws at the federal and state levels that protect you from the actions an employer may take when ending employment. These laws make certain things, such as discrimination and retaliation illegal.
Discrimination is probably the most protected area with laws at both levels. California wrongful termination law provides more extensive coverage than the federal law does. Protected classes under California law include:
- Age 40 or older
- Marital status
- Gender, including pregnancy
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Physical or mental disability
- Genetic information
- National origin
- Political affiliation
- Military status
A few laws that protect employees from discriminatory practices include:
- Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964
- California Fair Employment and Housing Act
- Age and Discrimination Act
- Equal Pay Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- California Family Rights Act
- Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Family Act
Other laws not specific to California provide additional protection against wrongful termination not relating to discrimination. For example, the Whistleblower Act protects you if you report the unlawful activity of your employer.
Another example is the California Worker Adjustment and Retraining and Notification Act, which protects you from mass layoffs. The WARN act applies to employers with at least 75 employees and states that for a mass layoff of 50 or more employees to be legal, your employer must provide a 60-day notice. It also applies if the employer is closing or relocating. The WARN Act gives you the right to sue for wages and benefits if your employer gives you less than a 60-day notice.
Examples of Wrongful Termination
Wrongful termination can be confusing, because there is a fine line between what is justifiable and what is not. It may help to see examples of reasons why your employer may fire you that constitute wrongful termination:
- Taking whistleblower actions
- Exercising your rights under the law
- Filing for workers’ compensation
- Taking time off when protected by law
- Refusing to break the law
- Joining a labor union or participating in activities
Another potential situation that relates to wrongful termination is wrongful constructive dismissal, which occurs when your employer does not fire you but makes your job condition so horrible that you have no other option but to quit. You can fight this legally if you show that your employer did this intentionally with the reasonable expectation that you would quit, and there is no other legal justification for which your employer could fire you.
Legal Assistance To Fight Wrongful Termination in California
You have the right to fight back when an employer illegally terminates your employment. However, it is not an easy task. Proving your case requires gathering evidence and hunting down witnesses who may not be too excited to testify. You need an attorney who has experience in this area of law and knows what to do to put together a solid case.
In addition, you have to move fast. The statute of limitations in many circumstances is two to three years. If you try to file your lawsuit after this deadline, then the court will throw it out. The clock starts on the day your employer fires you.
It is well worth it to go to court if you have a good wrongful termination claim. You can recover:
- Lost wages
- Lost benefits
- Back pay
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Attorney fees
- Punitive damages
Work With an Experienced California Wrongful Termination Lawyer
Don’t allow your employer to get away with illegal actions. Hold it accountable for wrongful termination by securing an employment attorney who can build your case for court. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!