Wrongful termination in California is a situation wherein a worker is laid off or fired for a reason that violates state or federal law or public policy.
As our Orange County employment attorneys can explain, most wrongful terminations stem from firing that resulted from:
- Violation of an implied contract.
- Whistleblower activities.
- Violations of public policy.
- Exercising rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting a work injury.
- WARN Act violations (involving mass layoffs).
- Retaliation for workers exercising rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or state employee leave laws.
Workers who successfully bring a wrongful termination lawsuit may be entitled to collect lost wages and benefits, back pay, compensation for emotional distress, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages (the last specifically awarded for gross misconduct by an employer).
How Do I Know if My Firing Was an Exception to California’s At-Will Employment Law?
When we say that wrongful termination lawsuits stem from illegitimate reasons, we’re specifically referring to unlawful reasons. The reality is that as an at-will employment state, an employer can legally fire you for no reason at all. Just the same way an employee can quit for any reason at all.
However, if you get fired for reasons that have something to do with your race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, age (if over 40), disability, marital status, pregnancy (or related condition), medical condition, being a member of the military or a victim of domestic violence/stalking, etc. – that is what amounts to a wrongful termination under federal and/or state laws. (Cities may have their own additional categories that are protected under law.)
Similarly, one can sue for wrongful termination if the termination occurred in violation of an implied contract. Employers create implied contracts by doing things like issuing employee handbooks that list specific causes for termination or telling an employee they won’t be fired unless they engage in certain behavior.
Another exception to at-will employment is when termination is in violation of public policy. The best example of this would be an employee who refuses to follow an employer’s order to break the law and is fired for it. That individual would have a case for public policy wrongful termination. Similarly, companies can’t fire workers for telling police the employer broke the law or for reporting unsafe working conditions to an agency like OSHA.
Workers can’t be fired in retaliation for reporting or cooperating with a case involving harassment, discrimination, criminal wrongdoing, wage and hour violations, or safety violations. Continue Reading ›