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.
Also noteworthy in this politically-divided day and age: California labor laws prohibit employers from attempting to control or direct their employees’ political activities or speech. So if you’re fired for political activity, you may have the right to sue for wrongful termination.
In addition to actual termination, the state protects workers from wrongful constructive termination. Constructive termination is when the employer makes it so that conditions on-the-job are so intolerable that one really has no choice but to quit.
What is the Process for Filing California Wrongful Termination Claims?
Your first steps to take if you have been fired and think it may have been the result of wrongful termination, the two things to do right away are to contact an Orange County employment attorney and to collect all relevant evidence in your case. The latter involves gathering up all written, electronic, and recorded documentation related to your performance and termination. Jot down the names and contact information for anyone who may be able to back up your claims. Don’t forget to include handwritten notes, social media posts, or memos that would tend to support your claim.
If you aren’t sure whether you can gather all evidence, don’t worry: Our employment attorneys are adept at information-gathering. But the more you are able to get at the start of the case, the better.
Generally, you have between 2 and 3 years to file a wrongful termination claim, depending on what it’s predicated on. However, there are some claims that might require swifter action. For example, claims based on whistleblower violations must be filed with the U.S. Department of labor within 180 days.
Cases will then proceed either to trial, dismissal, or settlement. Working with an experienced lawyer reduces the odds of dismissal – because we’ll be able to tell you the strength of your case straight out of the gate.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy – Essential Factual Elements, May 2020, Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2020 edition)