Do you have a wrongful termination case?
The following is an overview of general legal principles and is not exhaustive or a substitute for legal advice. Contact us today to speak to a wrongful termination attorney if you believe you were wrongfully terminated. Please contact one of our attorneys for a free consultations if you believe you were wrongfully terminated.
Not all unfair terminations are considered illegal under California law. California is an “at-will” state. This means that your employer can generally fire you “at-will” for any reason, no reason at all, at any time and without notice or explanation. Interpersonal conflicts at work likewise do not warrant legal action. The exception to this general rule is that an employer cannot fire you for an illegal reason or in breach of contract. If you were fired for an illegal reason, only then you may seek relief under the law. Below is a list of illegal reasons for termination that give rise to a legal action:
Complaining of Discrimination
Discussing your rate of pay
Reporting unpaid wages
Reporting unsafe working conditions
Refusing to participate in illegal activities or reporting illegal activities including medicare fraud, toxic waste disposal, unsafe construction practices, SEC violations and any other activities illegal under the law.
Complaining of sexual harassment
Taking a medical leave of absence to take care of your medical condition
Taking time off work to take care of a family member
Requesting or obtaining an accommodation for a medical condition or illness
Pregnancy or pregnancy related health issues
Breastfeeding at work
Unlawful conduct during off-work hours
Attending alcohol or drug rehab: A private employer of more than 25 employees cannot deny reasonable accommodation to participate in an alcohol or drug rehabilitation program.
Participating in union activity
Taking time off to visit child’s school: You are allowed to take time off work to appear at your child’s school, if a teacher so requests. Moreover, an employer of more than 25 employees must allow employees (who are parents, guardians, or grandparents) to take up to 40 hours a year, not more than 8 hours each month, to participate in activities at their children’s school.
Termination in Breach of an Employment Contract
- Express “good cause” contract: An employer’s discretion to terminate you “at-will” may be limited by contract. If your contract includes a “good cause” provision (e.g., the employment relationship may only be terminated for “good cause,” “just cause” or simply cause for termination must exist), then an employer may not terminated you without good cause.
- Contracts for a specific term: If you were hired pursuant to a contract that includes a specific term of employment (e.g., two years), the Labor Code permits termination for good cause only.
- Implied in fact contracts: Circumstances of the employment relationship may imply that a contract between the parties exists not to terminate except for good cause. An implied in fact contract may be inferred from actions and communications from the employer or the totality of the circumstances. Factors relevant to this analysis include: duration of employment, handbooks, letters and other writings.
Proving a wrongful termination case:
To establish a claim for wrongful termination, you must prove each of the following elements:
- An employee-employer relationship; Only employees, as opposed to independent contractors, can bring a claim for wrongful termination. Many individuals who are classified as independent contractors by their employer are actually employees under the law and are thereby entitled to relief for wrongful termination. In any event, an independent contractor can still bring claims for discrimination and retaliation as well as other claims under the law.
- Employer terminated your employment; [or made work conditions extremely intolerable forcing you to quit your job otherwise known as a constructive termination];
- The termination was substantially motivated by an unlawful reason; This is generally the hardest element to prove. A termination might still be considered wrongful if it is based on a mix of both legal and illegal reasons, otherwise known as “mixed motives.” To prevail, you must demonstrate that the unlawful reason was the substantial motivating factor for the termination. Whereas, under the ADEA, a claimant must satisfy a higher standard: the “but for” causation standard. For more information regarding this element, please see Harris v. City of Santa Monica.
- The termination caused you damages; and
- You suffered damages. Monetary damages for wrongful termination, may include but are not limited to, attorney’s fees and costs of pursuing a lawsuit, past and future lost wages and benefits, compensation for emotional distress and suffering, as well as past and future medical expenses. In the event you do not prevail, you will not be held responsible for an employer’s attorney’s fees and costs unless your case had zero merit and was frivolous.
Our firm exclusively focuses on representing employees in employment law matters, including wrongful terminations. The aggressive and effective legal representation we provide helps individuals regain their professional standing.
For more information about California laws relating to wrongful termination, please visit the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.