Short explanation: According to California law and 10 California wrongful termination attorneys, California defines wrongful termination as the unlawful firing of an employee in violation of state or federal laws, employment contracts, or public policy. Examples of this are being let go because of your race, religion, or for reporting your company’s wrongdoing. One of the best ways to prove wrongful termination is by gathering evidence, such as emails, documents, and witness testimonies, that supports your claim of illegal or unjustified firing.
Here’s how likely your case may or may not be:
Likelihood of having a case
Reason for termination
Fired for poor performance
Discrimination, retaliation, whistleblowing, breach of contract, violation of employment contract
Discrimination, violation of public policy, whistleblowing
Protects employees from retaliation for reporting illegal activities or refusing to engage in unlawful practices.
California Labor Code – Protection from Retaliation
Prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under labor laws.
California Labor Code – Overtime and Wage Laws
Establishes rules for overtime pay, minimum wage, and timely payment of wages.
California Labor Code – Right to Time Off for Voting
Allows employees to take time off to vote without losing pay.
California Labor Code – Right to Organize
Protects employees’ right to join or form labor unions and engage in collective bargaining.
California Labor Code – Military and Veterans’ Reemployment
Provides job protections and rights for employees who serve in the military.
California Labor Code – Right to Accommodation for Disabilities
Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
California Labor Code – Time Off for Jury Duty
Grants employees leave for jury duty without fear of termination.
California Labor Code – Final Paycheck Requirements
Outlines guidelines for timely payment of final wages upon termination.
Your Rights as a Californian
Rights Related to Wrongful Termination in California
Protection Against Discrimination
Employees cannot be terminated based on their race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or pregnancy.
Right to File a Complaint
Workers have the right to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Employers cannot retaliate against employees for reporting illegal activities, discrimination, or unsafe working conditions.
Employees are protected if they report illegal or unethical actions by their employers.
Family and Medical Leave Rights
Eligible employees can take job-protected leave for family or medical reasons under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
Pregnancy Disability Leave
Pregnant employees have the right to take leave due to pregnancy-related disabilities.
Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, unless it causes undue hardship.
Unpaid Wages and Overtime Rights
Workers have the right to be paid for all hours worked, including overtime, in accordance with California labor laws.
Time Off for Voting Rights
Employees have the right to take time off work to vote in statewide elections.
Protected Political Activities
Employers cannot take adverse actions against employees for engaging in lawful political activities.
Military Leave Protections
Employees who are members of the military have job protections and rights related to military service.
Wrongful Termination Evaluator Quiz
Take this short 90 second quiz to find out if you might have been wrongfully terminated in California.
*The information provided in this quiz is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. The results of this quiz are not a substitute for consulting with a qualified attorney to assess your specific situation. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated or have employment-related concerns, we strongly recommend getting in contact with one of our top rated wrongful termination attorneys.
At Will Employment
At-will employment means that, in the absence of an employment contract specifying a set duration or specific terms, both the employer and the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason that isn’t illegal, with or without prior notice.
At Will Employment Impact on Wrongful Termination Cases in California
At-will employment status can affect wrongful termination cases in several ways:
Under at-will employment, an employer doesn’t need a specific reason to terminate an employee. This can make it challenging to prove that the termination was wrongful, as long as it wasn’t based on illegal reasons such as discrimination, retaliation, or violation of protected rights.
Burden of Proof
In a wrongful termination case in California, the burden of proof typically rests on the employee. They must show that the termination violated a specific law or public policy, rather than the employer needing to prove a valid reason for termination.
Exceptions to At-Will Employment
Although at-will employment is the default in California, there are important exceptions where wrongful termination claims can arise:
a) Discrimination: If an employee can demonstrate that their termination was based on protected characteristics (e.g., race, gender, age, disability), they might have a valid wrongful termination claim.
b) Retaliation: If an employee was terminated in retaliation for engaging in protected activities (e.g., reporting harassment, whistleblowing), this could be considered wrongful termination.
c) Violation of Public Policy: If the termination goes against a well-established public policy, it might be considered wrongful, even in at-will employment.
d) Breach of Implied Contract: If an employer makes oral or written promises that could create a reasonable belief of job security or specific conditions of employment, a breach of these promises could lead to a wrongful termination claim.
e) Violation of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: In some cases, courts may find that the at-will employment relationship shouldn’t be used as a pretext to terminate employees arbitrarily or unfairly, violating the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
It’s important to note that each case is unique, and the specific circumstances will determine whether an exception to at-will employment applies.
What are Wrongful Termination Examples?
Below is a list of 15 common examples of wrongful termination:
Termination based on an employee’s race or ethnicity.
Firing an employee because of their gender or sexual orientation.
Wrongful termination due to an employee’s religion or religious practices.
Firing an employee because they requested overtime pay or complained about wage and hour violations.
Termination due to an employee’s military service or obligations.
Retaliatory termination for taking legally protected actions, such as filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Wrongful termination based on an employee’s national origin or immigration status.
Please note that these examples are not an exhaustive list, and there may be other circumstances where wrongful termination can occur.
What are the Top 5 Most Common Wrongful Termination Lawsuits?
Below are five common types of wrongful termination that employees frequently pursue:
Discrimination: Wrongful termination claims based on discrimination occur when an employee is fired due to their race, gender, age, religion, disability, or other protected characteristics. Discrimination claims are prevalent and can arise from various contexts.
Retaliation: Retaliation claims arise when an employee is terminated as a form of punishment for engaging in protected activities such as reporting workplace misconduct, filing a complaint, or participating in an investigation or lawsuit against the employer.
Breach of Contract: Breach of contract claims involve situations where an employer terminates an employee in violation of an employment contract, whether it’s an explicit written agreement or an implied contract based on company policies or assurances made to the employee.
Whistleblower Retaliation: These claims arise when an employee is fired in retaliation for reporting illegal activities, violations of laws or regulations, or other wrongdoing committed by the employer or its representatives.
Violation of Public Policy: Wrongful termination claims based on violation of public policy occur when an employee is fired for reasons that go against fundamental societal policies, such as terminating an employee for refusing to engage in illegal activities or exercising a statutory right.
It’s important to note that the prevalence of these types of claims may vary based on factors like geographical location, industry, and specific circumstances.
Example Scenarios of Wrongful Termination
Scenario #1 (Gender and pregnancy discrimination)
Sara, a female employee, was terminated from her position shortly after announcing her pregnancy.
Despite her consistent performance and positive reviews, her employer expressed concerns about her ability to fulfill her job duties due to pregnancy-related absences. No accommodations were offered, and Sara was abruptly let go.
This termination based on gender is a clear violation of anti-discrimination laws. Pregnant employees are protected from adverse employment actions based on their condition, and Sara’s termination was unjustifiable, as it stemmed solely from her gender-related circumstance.
She would have grounds for a wrongful termination claim based on gender discrimination and pregnancy discrimination.
Scenario #2 (Workplace retaliation)
John, an employee, reported his supervisor’s fraudulent activities to the company’s ethics hotline.
Soon after, John began experiencing a hostile work environment and received unfavorable performance reviews, despite his previously exemplary record. Ultimately, he was terminated for alleged performance deficiencies.
This termination is a clear case of workplace retaliation, as it directly followed John’s protected activity of reporting misconduct.
Retaliatory termination is illegal, and John would have grounds for a wrongful termination claim based on retaliation for engaging in protected whistleblowing activity.
Scenario #3 (Breach of contract)
Lisa had a written employment contract that guaranteed her employment for a specific duration of three years, unless terminated for specific reasons.
However, her employer unexpectedly terminated her employment after just one year without any valid grounds.
This termination violates the terms of the contract, constituting a breach of contract. Lisa can pursue a wrongful termination claim based on breach of contract, seeking remedies such as compensation for lost wages and damages resulting from the employer’s failure to fulfill the agreed-upon employment terms.
Scenario #4 (Violation of public policy)
Mark, an employee at a pharmaceutical company, refused to participate in the production of a new drug after discovering that it failed to meet safety regulations. His employer terminated him, citing insubordination.
However, Mark’s refusal to engage in the production of an unsafe drug was an act aligned with public policy and protection of public health.
His termination constitutes a violation of public policy, as he was fired for acting in the best interest of public safety. Mark could pursue a wrongful termination claim based on the violation of public policy.
What to do Immediately After You Were Wrongfully Terminated [Video]
After being wrongfully terminated, it’s important to take certain steps immediately to protect your rights and potentially build a strong case. Here’s what you should consider doing:
Stay Calm: It’s understandable to be upset, but try to remain calm and composed. Emotional reactions may not be helpful in this situation.
Review Your Employment Contract: Check your employment contract for any terms related to termination, notice periods, or severance pay. This can be crucial in negotiations.
Gather Evidence: Collect any evidence related to your termination, such as emails, memos, performance reviews, or witness statements that support your claim of wrongful termination.
Contact HR: Reach out to your company’s HR department to inquire about the reasons for your termination. Request a written explanation if possible.
Request Your Personnel File: In some states, you have the right to access your personnel file, which may contain valuable information.
Review Company Policies: Familiarize yourself with the company’s policies and procedures for addressing workplace disputes and terminations. Ensure they followed their own rules.
Don’t Sign Anything Hastily: If your employer offers you any documents, such as a severance agreement or a release of claims, do not sign them immediately. Consult with an attorney first.
File for Unemployment: If eligible, apply for unemployment benefits. Being wrongfully terminated doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from receiving benefits.
Consult an Attorney: Seek legal counsel from an employment attorney experienced in wrongful termination cases. They can evaluate your situation and guide you on the best course of action.
Document Everything: Keep a record of all interactions related to your termination, including dates, times, and the names of people you spoke to.
Stay Professional: Maintain professionalism in your communication and actions. Avoid making negative remarks about your former employer on social media or in public.
Seek Emotional Support: This can be a challenging time emotionally. Reach out to friends, family, or a counselor for support.
Consider Mediation or Negotiation: In some cases, mediation or negotiation with your employer may be an option to resolve the issue without going to court. Your attorney can advise you on this.
Remember that wrongful termination cases can be complex, and it’s crucial to have proper legal guidance.
Common Mistakes People Make After Being Wrongfully Terminated
After being wrongfully terminated, individuals can inadvertently make mistakes that may negatively impact their legal case or their overall well-being. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
Not Seeking Legal Advice: One of the most significant mistakes is failing to consult with an employment attorney. Legal guidance is crucial to understand your rights, assess the strength of your case, and navigate the legal process effectively.
Not Preserving Evidence: Failing to gather and preserve evidence related to your termination, such as emails, performance reviews, or witness statements, can weaken your case. Document everything relevant.
Signing Documents Without Legal Review: Avoid signing any documents, such as severance agreements or releases, without having an attorney review them first. These documents may contain clauses that waive your right to legal action.
Sharing Too Much on Social Media: Refrain from posting negative comments or details about your case on social media. Such posts can be used against you and may harm your professional image.
Missing Filing Deadlines: If you intend to file a complaint with a government agency or court, ensure you meet all deadlines. Missing these deadlines can result in the dismissal of your case.
Discussing the Case at Work: Avoid discussing your wrongful termination case with current or former coworkers, as this could lead to misunderstandings or complicate the situation.
Not Following Legal Advice: If you hire an attorney, it’s essential to follow their advice and guidance throughout the legal process. Ignoring their counsel can weaken your case.
Neglecting Emotional Well-Being: Going through a wrongful termination can be emotionally taxing. Seek emotional support from friends, family, or a counselor to help manage stress and anxiety.
Badmouthing the Former Employer: Resist the urge to publicly criticize your former employer, even if you believe your termination was unjust. Negative comments can harm your professional reputation.
Not Considering Mediation or Settlement: Sometimes, resolving the case through mediation or settlement can be a faster and less stressful option than going to trial. Be open to exploring these possibilities with your attorney.
Assuming All Cases Go to Court: Not all wrongful termination cases end up in court. Some are resolved through negotiation or alternative dispute resolution methods. Understand your options.
Overlooking State-Specific Laws: Different states may have varying laws related to wrongful termination. Ensure you and your attorney are well-informed about the laws in your jurisdiction.
Ignoring Health and Finances: Pay attention to your health and financial stability during this challenging time. Seek appropriate healthcare if needed, and consider your financial options, such as unemployment benefits.
Remember that every wrongful termination case is unique, and the best course of action may vary.
How to Prove Wrongful Termination in California
To prove wrongful termination under California law, you generally need to show:
You have a legally protected right, such as not being fired due to race, gender, or disability.
You were let go from your job.
There is a connection between the protected right and the termination, meaning you were fired because of that reason.
There was no valid reason or justification for the termination.
Evidence like documents, witness statements, or company policies can support your case.
After gathering this information, one of the easiest ways to prove you have a wrongful termination case is to speak with a qualified employment attorney.
Is it Hard to Prove Wrongful Termination in California?
Proving wrongful termination can be hard, as it requires establishing a connection between the protected right and termination, demonstrating lack of legitimate justification, and presenting evidence to support the claim.
However, with thorough documentation, legal guidance, and appropriate evidence, individuals can build a strong case to substantiate their claims.
Some of the Common & Uncommon Ways to Prove Wrongful Termination
Below are 10 common ways and 10 less common ways to prove wrongful termination:
Documented Evidence: Gather any emails, memos, or documents that show a pattern of unfair treatment leading to your termination.
Witness Statements: If coworkers or colleagues witnessed your termination or any discriminatory actions, their statements can be valuable.
Employment Contracts: Review your employment contract for any clauses or terms that were violated during your termination.
Company Policies: Ensure that your employer followed their own policies and procedures when terminating you.
Discrimination: If you believe you were terminated due to discrimination (e.g., race, gender, age), provide evidence supporting this claim.
Retaliation: If you reported illegal activities or workplace issues before your termination, this may be retaliation.
Performance Records: Show that your job performance was satisfactory or improving before termination.
Comparative Treatment: If others in your workplace were treated differently in similar situations, it can suggest discrimination.
Medical Records: If your termination was related to a medical condition, provide medical records and doctor’s notes.
Legal Advice: Consult with an attorney experienced in employment law for guidance.
Social Media Posts: Sometimes, employers may make damaging statements on social media or emails.
Surveillance Footage: If you were terminated for alleged misconduct, request surveillance footage if it can prove your innocence.
Voice Recordings: In some cases, voice recordings can be used as evidence of wrongful termination.
Employee Handbook Changes: If the company changed its policies just before your termination, it might be relevant.
Company Financials: If the company was facing financial difficulties, it could support your case.
Whistleblower Protections: If you reported illegal activities within the company, you might have whistleblower protections.
Psychological Evaluations: If you have undergone psychological evaluations related to the workplace, they could be relevant.
Workplace Surveys: Employee surveys highlighting workplace issues can be evidence of a hostile work environment.
Character Witnesses: Colleagues or supervisors who can vouch for your character and work ethic.
Electronic Communications: Recover deleted emails or messages that support your case if they exist.
How to File a Wrongful Termination Claim in California
If you believe you were wrongfully terminated from your job in California, you can take these steps to file a claim:
Gather any evidence you have, such as emails, documents, or witness statements that support your case.
File a complaint with a government agency, such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The government agency will investigate your claim.
Consider consulting an employment lawyer who can guide you through the process and help protect your rights.
Act promptly, as there are time limits for filing a claim.
What Should You Not do After Being Wrongfully Terminated?
After being wrongfully terminated, there are a few things you should avoid doing:
Do not engage in retaliatory behavior: It’s essential to refrain from taking any actions that could be perceived as retaliatory against your former employer or coworkers. This includes spreading false rumors, engaging in harassment, or any other form of misconduct.
Avoid making hasty decisions: While it’s natural to feel upset and frustrated, it’s crucial not to make impulsive decisions that could harm your legal position or reputation. Take time to assess your options and consult with legal professionals before taking any significant steps.
Don’t ignore deadlines: Wrongful termination claims have specific time limits for filing complaints or lawsuits. It’s crucial to be aware of these deadlines and take appropriate action within the prescribed time frames. Failing to do so may result in losing your right to pursue legal remedies.
Avoid discussing the case publicly: It’s generally advisable to refrain from discussing the details of your case or making public statements about the wrongful termination. This can help protect the integrity of your case and avoid potential complications.
Do not sign agreements without legal review: If your employer presents you with a settlement agreement or severance package, it’s essential not to sign it without consulting with an employment lawyer. They can help ensure your rights are protected and that you are not waiving any legal claims unknowingly.
Remember, each case and circumstance is different. If you have hesitations about your recent firing, get in touch with an employment attorney.
Common Employer Defenses & Exceptions
Exceptions or Defenses in Wrongful Termination Cases in California
Employers may argue that California follows at-will employment, allowing termination without cause, but not for illegal reasons.
Legitimate Business Reasons
Employers can defend termination if it was based on genuine business reasons, such as downsizing, restructuring, or financial issues.
Poor Performance or Misconduct
If the employee’s performance was consistently inadequate or they engaged in misconduct, the employer might use this defense.
Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ)
In limited cases, employers can justify a termination if it’s necessary for the safe and efficient performance of the job.
Culpable Conduct of the Employee
Employers may assert that the employee’s own actions or omissions contributed significantly to their termination.
Employee Violated Company Policies or Rules
Employers might defend termination if the employee violated company policies, regulations, or workplace rules.
Lack of Evidence
Employers may challenge the lack of sufficient evidence supporting the employee’s claim of wrongful termination.
If the employee voluntarily agreed to termination through mutual consent, the employer might argue against wrongful termination.
Independent Contractor Status
Employers may argue that the worker was an independent contractor, not an employee, thus not subject to wrongful termination laws.
Employers can use the statute of limitations as a defense if the claim was filed after the specified time limit for wrongful termination cases.
What Types of Damages Can You Receive from a Wrongful Termination Claim in California?
In a successful wrongful termination claim in California, you may be eligible to receive various types of damages. These can include:
Lost wages: This includes the amount of money you would have earned from the time of termination until the resolution of the case. It may cover back pay, future lost wages, and lost employment benefits.
Emotional distress: If you experienced emotional harm, such as anxiety, depression, or humiliation due to the wrongful termination, you may be awarded damages to compensate for this distress.
Punitive damages: In some cases where the employer’s conduct was particularly egregious or intentional, punitive damages may be awarded. These are meant to punish the employer and deter similar actions in the future.
Reinstatement: In certain circumstances, the court may order your employer to reinstate you to your previous position or a comparable one.
Attorneys’ fees and costs: If you win your case, you may be entitled to reimbursement of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred during the legal process.
The specific damages you may receive will depend on the details of your case, including the nature of the wrongful termination and the evidence presented.
Why it’s Important to Act Promptly After a Wrongful Termination
Acting promptly after a wrongful termination is crucial for several reasons.
You need to file your claim within certain time limits, known as the statutes of limitations in CA.
Acting promptly preserves evidence and ensures accurate recollection of details, strengthening your case.
Swift action demonstrates seriousness and commitment, influencing how your case is perceived.
Prompt filing minimizes emotional distress and financial hardships caused by the termination.
Taking immediate action allows you to seek appropriate remedies and move forward in a timely manner.
16 California Wrongful Termination Frequently Asked Questions
What qualifies as wrongful termination in California?
California law prohibits employers from terminating employees based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, age, disability, and other factors.
What are my rights as an employee who has been wrongfully terminated?
You have the right to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and pursue legal action against your employer.
Should I consult with an employment lawyer after being wrongfully terminated?
Yes, consulting with an employment lawyer is advisable to understand your rights and explore potential legal options.
Can I file a complaint with a government agency for wrongful termination?
Yes, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if applicable.
What is the process for filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)?
You can file a complaint with the DFEH online, by mail, or in person, and the agency will investigate your claim.
Is there a time limit for filing a wrongful termination claim?
Yes, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful termination claim in California is typically two years from the date of the termination.
Can I still pursue legal action if I did not have an employment contract?
Yes, even without an employment contract, you can still pursue legal action for wrongful termination if it violated labor laws.
Can you get punitive damages for wrongful termination California?
Yes, it is possible to receive punitive damages after a wrongful termination in California. This tends to happen in severe cases.
Can I seek reinstatement to my former position if I was wrongfully terminated?
In some cases, reinstatement to your former position may be an option, but it depends on the circumstances and employer willingness.
How long does a wrongful termination case take in California?
The duration of a wrongful termination case varies, but it can take several months to a few years, depending on the complexity and court proceedings.
Will my employer retaliate against me if I take legal action?
Retaliation by an employer for pursuing legal action is unlawful, and you may have additional claims if it occurs.
Can I sue for emotional distress caused by the wrongful termination?
Yes, emotional distress damages can be sought if you can demonstrate severe emotional harm resulting from the wrongful termination.
What role does discrimination play in a wrongful termination case?
Discrimination is a significant factor in many wrongful termination cases, as it can be the basis for an unlawful termination claim.
Can my employer fire me without giving a reason?
California follows “at-will” employment, meaning employers can generally terminate employees without cause, but they cannot do so for illegal reasons.
Should I attempt to negotiate a settlement with my former employer?
Negotiating a settlement may be a viable option to resolve the matter without going to trial, but you should seriously consider having legal representation.
Can I still get unemployment benefits if I was wrongfully terminated?
If you were wrongfully terminated, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits, but it depends on the specific circumstances and state regulations.
Get in Touch with a Lawyer
Understanding wrongful termination in California is essential for protecting employee rights. With various legal protections in place, employees have recourse if they experience unlawful termination.
By recognizing the signs of wrongful termination, gathering evidence, and seeking legal guidance, individuals can navigate the process and pursue justice for unfair treatment in the workplace.
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