Getting fired is never fun. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegal. As our L.A. employment attorneys can explain, certain elements need to exist in order to prove your termination was illegal, as opposed to just unpleasant.
Let’s start by explaining just broadly that a mix of federal and California laws prohibit employers from firing workers for a number of specific reasons, including disability, age (if over 40), use of family or medical leave, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, race or religion. Laws like the California Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA), the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII and others are designed to protect workers from being fired on the basis of things that are mostly beyond their control. Other provisions of law are designed to protect workers who are whistleblowers or who file complaints for things like sexual harassment, discrimination or other wrongdoing.
What can complicate some would-be wrongful termination claims is the fact that California (like most other states) practices something called at-will employment. This means that employers are allowed to take adverse employment action (cut pay, reduce paid time off, end benefits or even fire workers) at any time and for any reason – except one that is illegal. At the same time, employees are generally free to quit anytime they want without incurring any legal liability.
If you aren’t sure whether your firing was lawful, it’s best to share your concerns in confidence with an experienced wrongful termination lawyer who can explain how the law may be applicable in your case. That said, here are some examples of when your firing may be unlawful.
This is perhaps the most common reason for wrongful termination claims. Employers can be held legally liable for wrongful termination if it is done on the basis of age, gender, race/ethnicity, skin color, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, disability, pregnancy, any medical condition or because you were a victim of assault, domestic abuse or stalking. Furthermore in California, employers are prohibited from retaliating against or terminating employees for their political activities or beliefs (one to remember in these particularly polarizing political times).
Discrimination can happen not just in termination, but also in hiring and other employment actions, such as promotions and assignment of benefits.
Retaliation is commonly cited in Los Angeles wrongful termination claims. Employees have certain rights. For example, medical conditions may entitle them to time off. A work-related injury may entitle to them to file for workers’ compensation. All employees have the right to enjoy a workplace free from discrimination or harassment. They are allowed to call out u lawful wage and hour practices by the employer. They can participate as witnesses in EEOC investigations into the employer’s conduct.
Unfortunately, far too often when employees exercise these rights, they are retaliated against by the employer. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse employment action against a worker for engaging in or exercising those rights which are protected by law.
Adverse employment action may include:
- Firing. Being let go from your job.
- Demotion. This is losing status, seniority privileges or responsibilities or being assigned to a lower-ranking role.
- Loss of hours or reduction of salary. A cut in pay or hours.
- Exclusion. When your boss intentionally keeps you out of things like trainings, staff meetings or other activities that are available to your co-workers.
- Reassignment. Rescheduling or reassigning you to certain duties or a type of schedule that results in undue hardship or a pay cut.
Public Policy Violations
This type of claim can go hand-in-hand with retaliation claims, but essentially align with provisions of state law that hold it is wrongful termination in violation of public policy when an employer fires an employee due to:
- Refusal to break the law.
- Performing a legal obligation.
- Performing a legal right or privilege.
- Reporting a potential violation of a law of public importance.
Although California is an at-will state when it comes to employment, employers and employees are free to enter employment contracts. These may guarantee employment and may even outline only a narrow number of for cause situations wherein an employee can be fired. If the termination was in violation of your employment contract, you may have grounds to sue for wrongful termination on the basis of the contract breach.
Unfortunately, many employers get away with wrongful termination because they presume employees will never challenge them on it. Too often, they’re right. But an experienced wrongful termination lawyer in Los Angeles can help you ascertain whether your firing was against the law and if you may be entitled to compensation.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949-375-4734.
CACI No. 2430. Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy – Essential Factual Elements, 2020, California Civil Jury Instructions