Many employees in California are under the assumption that they have no legal protections if they are fired or laid off. However, there are certain cases of termination that occur which are against the law and violate a worker’s employee rights. All workers in California should understand the seven primary grounds for wrongful termination claims.
At Shegerian & Associates, we know the ins and outs of wrongful termination law and how to help you navigate these legal complexities so that you are able to receive the compensation and justice that you deserve. Consult with our wrongful termination lawyers to get you started.
Defining Wrongful Termination in California
California is an at-will employment law state. This means that an employer has the right to end an employment law contract for a good reason, for a bad reason, or for no reason at all. While wrongful termination claims may seem possible with this doctrine in California, this law is not all encompassing.
Your employer cannot fire someone for an unlawful reason because there are exceptions to at-will employment. If you are terminated because of an unlawful reason, you have the ability to sue your employer for wrongful termination.
Common Grounds for a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
There are seven common grounds for wrongful termination lawsuits in California. These include:
Discrimination or Reporting FEHA Violations
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects employees from being terminated or otherwise discriminated against for a protected trait, such as:
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Pumping breast milk at work or for asking for lactation accommodation
- Age (if over 40)
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- AIDS/HIV positive status
- Medical condition
- Political activities or affiliations
- Military or veteran status
- Citizenship status
Additionally, this state law makes it illegal for an employer to fire or otherwise retaliate against an employee for:
- Opposing harassment or discrimination in the workplace
- Filing a complaint or report stating harassment or discrimination
- Testifying against the employer in any investigation or lawsuit involving harassment or discrimination
In California, Labor Code 1101 and 1102 protect employees from termination due to protected political activities and speech. Any employee that is fired for political activity has the right to sue their employer for wrongful termination.
Violation of an Implied Oral Contract
An implied oral contract is a type of employment law contract that does not exist on paper, but is understood by both parties. An employer who has entered into an implied oral contract cannot terminate an employee without good cause, which includes:
- Issuing the employer a handbook that contains reasons or scenarios where termination may occur
- Telling the employee that their job is safe unless there is some type of behavior that violates company policy
Making Wage or Hour Complaints
It is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee who asks about or attempts to utilize family or medical leave, which is time off guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Wrongful termination of an employee occurs when a worker is fired:
- Within 30 days after the employee requests to use paid sick leave
- Within 90 days of returning from FMLA time off
Additionally, employees are protected from wrongful termination if they complain about or file a claim indicating wage and hour law violations. These include violations regarding meal and rest breaks, overtime pay, or vacation pay.
Not Receiving Proper Notice Before a Mass Layoff
You may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit if your employer failed to follow legal guidelines set forth in California’s Worker Retraining and Notification (WARN) Act. The WARN Act requires that employers give at least 60 days of notice to employees before:
- Conducting a mass layoff of 50 or more employees
- Closing or relocating a facility site
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim
In California, employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance which provides financial coverage to employees who are injured while performing work-related duties. If your employer terminated you because you exercised your right to report your work injury and file a workers’ comp claim for benefits, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. Seek the services of a wrongful termination attorney to assist you in the filing of complaint.
Refusing to Violate Public Policy
Wrongful termination in violation of public policy occurs when an employee is terminated for refusing to follow an employer’s orders because it violates the law. For instance, an employee would be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit in violation of public policy if the worker refuses to help an employer violate criminal tax fraud laws.
According to Labor Code 1102.5, whistleblower termination occurs when an employee is terminated for reporting a violation of the law to a government agency, law enforcement agency, or a supervisor who has the authority to investigate the potentially unlawful activity. There are several other statues that protect employees in certain situations from whistleblower retaliation.
Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated from your job in California, it is important that you take action immediately. We recommend that you initially take the following steps:
- Contact a wrongful termination lawyer to discuss your potential case
- Gather and preserve all evidence related to your wrongful termination claim
Your employment law attorney will play a key role in helping you obtain and preserve evidence that is necessary to ensure that your case is built on solid ground. Types of evidence that you should gather that can help indicate that you were illegally terminated include:
- Recorded communications, such as emails or voicemails
- Witness accounts from fellow coworkers
- Company employment data
The statute of limitations is the time that you have to file a claim or lawsuit before you are unable to do so. Note that the clock begins running the day that you are terminated. In California the statute of limitations for a wrongful termination lawsuit will depend on the type of claim that you are bringing:
- FEHA: 3 years
- Implied Oral Contract: 2 years
- Whistleblower under Labor Code 1102.5: 3 years
- Public Policy: 2 years
- WARN Act: 3 years
There are several types of damages that you may be able to recover if your wrongful termination lawsuit is successful. While the actual amount that you receive will depend on the nature and circumstances of your wrongful termination, you are generally able to receive compensation for:
- Lost wages plus benefits and interest
- Job reinstatement
- Loss of future wages/front pay
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Attorneys’ fees and litigation courts
- Punitive damages
To prove wrongful termination in employment, an individual would typically need to show that they were terminated in violation of a federal or state law, public policy, or their employment contract. This may involve providing evidence such as emails, witness testimony, performance evaluations, and other documentation that supports their claim.
Generally, employers can terminate an employee without notice as long as they provide a valid reason for the termination that is not discriminatory or in violation of any employment contracts or agreements. However, the laws governing termination without notice can vary depending on the jurisdiction.
It depends on the specific laws and circumstances of the case. In California, employees who prevail in a wrongful termination lawsuit may be able to recover attorneys' fees.
To show evidence for wrongful termination in employment, you will need to gather any documentation or witnesses that can support your claim that your termination was illegal or unjustified.
Speak With Our Team for Free
Our services begin with a free case evaluation with a wrongful terminal lawyer. At this time, we gather as much relevant information as possible so that we can provide a fair and insightful discussion of the best plan forward for you.
We work on a contingency basis, which means that unless we win the case and you receive compensation for your wrongful termination, you don’t pay anything. We are only paid when you get proper compensation.
Come to Shegerian & Associates, Inc., for legal services by our wrongful termination California lawyers and in New York City, NY. Call us 24/7 at (951) 386-2052 or (212) 257-8883 to schedule your free case evaluation.