Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Learn about Employment Law, Wrongful Termination, and Retaliation Claims in California
Your employer cannot terminate, punish, or indirectly diminish your career growth without valid cause. If you have experienced employment retaliation or wrongful termination, you need a Wrongful Termination Lawyer in Los Angeles to handle your claims. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.
What Is Considered Wrongful Termination in California?
In California Employment Law, Wrongful Termination refers to when an employer fires an employee without cause. Breach of an employer-employee contract or violation of anti-discrimination laws is two examples of illegal reasons for firing an employee.
No single statute in the United States protects employees against being fired without cause. Instead, several federal and state statutes and court rulings serve to define the idea.
On a state level, 49 of the 50 states in the United States are "at-will" states, meaning that employers can fire employees without cause at any time. This is referred to as termination at will. (Montana is the one and only exception.) Employees in California are protected under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and if a terminated employee files a claim for wrongful termination, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing will often investigate the claim (DFEH).
At first glance, at-will employees appear to be unprotected against termination without cause. There are certain exceptions: certain employees may have contracts with their employers that limit the authority of the employer to fire or terminate them without cause. Employees may be members of a labor organization or union. One of the benefits of membership may have had access to a collective bargaining agreement, which may include restrictions on how employees are terminated and disciplinary procedures that must be followed before termination.
Termination is also prohibited if it is based on a person's traits that are protected against discrimination. Several laws, including the federally recognized Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), protect employees from discrimination based on their age, race, color, or national origin, gender or sexual orientation, medical condition, such as mental or physical disability or pregnancy, and more.
Sexual harassment is a component of the anti-discrimination policy. If you were fired or terminated because of sexual harassment, it was also illegal and might be considered wrongful termination.
Additional regulations and legislation prohibit an employer from firing an employee who reports a legal, safety, or other violation to a regulatory agency. Whistleblower legislation is what it's called.
Finally, most jurisdictions, including California, prevent employers from firing employees for filing a formal complaint regarding unpaid pay or workers' compensation claims.
Spotting Wrongful Termination in California Workplace
Whether it's through termination, dismissal, or downsizing, losing your job is one of life's most stressful experiences. Although it has a high financial and emotional cost, California law does afford some protection. Wrongful termination is prohibited if the following conditions are met:
It is carried out for the purpose of discrimination.
It infringes on a contract of employment or a government policy.
Because the employee exercised a lawful right, it is done in retribution.
California is an at-will employment state, meaning that either the employee or the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason. On the other hand, at-will employment is far more complicated than a convenient reason for wrongful termination. At-will employment means that the employee has no set length of employment and can be fired at any time.
While employer counsel frequently uses the term "at-will employment," employers may not fire employees for improper grounds, as this is deemed wrongful termination. Nonetheless, some of California's - and the world's - largest businesses routinely engage in illegal terminations. If you believe you were unlawfully terminated, you should contact the best Wrongful Termination Lawyer In Los Angeles, who can walk you through the process of filing a claim.
Although many employees in the public or government sector, those with implied, verbal, or written contracts, and those who belong to unions, may claim to be exempt from general at-will status, the majority of workers in California are at-will employees. While it may appear that this rule allows companies to hire and fire employees at will, there is one crucial exception: wrongful termination.
For it to be legal, you don't need a written, official employment agreement. A permanent job advertisement and the company's employee handbook's disciplinary procedures can result in an agreement. When:
the employer makes an offer
you say yes to the offer
The arrangement is advantageous to both you and your employer.
As a California employee, you may be concerned that your employer would fire you without cause, which is a legitimate fear. Due to specific exceptions to the at-will employment provision, you may be the victim of workplace discrimination or wrongful termination.
Employees who are employed will have the right to quit, stop working, or strike at any time and for any cause. If a company fires an employee for a good reason, it must also show that the individual engaged in serious conduct to breach the employment contract. When an employee's actions warrant the prompt termination of their employment contract, just cause is used.
Some businesses purposefully mislead employees to the point that it's illegal. An employee must demonstrate the following to support a successful fraud claim:
The work employer made misleading claims.
Misrepresentations were known to the employer.
By making those statements, the employer hoped to persuade the employee to accept or stay in a position.
The employee was hurt due to relying on the representations' accuracy.
It can be difficult to prove that an employer intentionally misled you, but establishing the deception can help you recover various damages, including the right to leave your old job and relocate closer to your new one.
What is Wrongful Termination In an At-Will Employment State?
In common law, there are several types of wrongful termination:
terminations that are not by the implied covenants of fair dealing and good faith;
terminations following the establishment of an implicit employment contract;
terminations that are unconstitutional under California law;
terminations that are in violation of anti-discrimination legislation at the municipal, state, and federal levels
Although your employer does not have a good reason to fire you, the at-will rule includes several exceptions. This includes the requirement that your employer has a legitimate reason for terminating your employment. Similarly, if you're a union member, your collective bargaining agreement should specify how you'll be fired. Always pay close attention to the following:
a contract for employment
manuals for employees
policies of the employer
Your rights under your employment agreement should be stated in these agreements.
California recognizes an exception for the promise of good faith, which is contained in every employment relationship. It outlaws firings and other personnel decisions made with malice or in bad faith by employers. To determine whether a covenant of good faith exists, the court will consider elements such as basic conceptions of fairness, length of employment, adherence to personnel policies by the corporation, prior performance criticisms, and whether job security promises exist.
When an employer unlawfully terminates an employee in California, the public policy contract exemption applies. An employer firing an employee is one example of a violation.
following a working injury, he or she files a workers' compensation claim;
if the employee refuses to participate in the employer's specified criminal conduct
There are some exceptions when an employer enters into an implied contract with an employee. Even if there is no written employment contract, this holds true. Employers can make written or oral assurances about procedures and job security, which must be observed throughout disciplinary proceedings. Such representations, statements, and contents of employee handbooks may constitute the basis for an employment contract, which may result in implied contracts unless the contract contains a waiver that expressly excludes such rights. A provision describing the employer's unique disciplinary and termination procedures is typically seen in handbooks.
Wrongful Termination of At-Will Workers in California
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act both protect at-will workers in California (FEHA). Your employer might be guilty of illegal workplace discrimination if you were demoted or fired owing to protected qualities as an at-will employee. Wrongful termination is often misinterpreted. The termination is termed wrongful when an employer terminates (or lays off) a worker for an illegal or unethical cause. If you were fired for one of the following reasons, you might have a claim against your employer:
Marital status discrimination
Religious beliefs discrimination
Discrimination based on genetic information
National origin discrimination
Employers may also not fire workers in retaliation:
to file health and safety complaints;
for making a complaint about unpaid wages or overtime;
for failing to provide enough rest periods, food, or other infractions of the Labor Code;
As a form of retaliation against healthcare personnel who raise issues about patient safety.
Finally, companies are prohibited from dismissing employees for violating public policy, which includes termination for:
a military service member
voting while on leave from work
Taking time off to serve on a jury
Wrongful termination lawsuits in California are primarily filed under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). When employers report infractions of the Labor Code or other related laws, retaliation is typical.
If your employer violated its own contractual or policy obligations, state and federal law might hold them liable for illegal termination.
Mixed Motives and Wrongful Termination
When an employer utilizes both legal and illegal reasons to terminate a termination's job, this is known as dual motives. It is deemed wrongful termination when an illegal reason is used as a motivating factor in a firing decision. If any of the criteria listed above had a role in the employee's dismissal, the worker might have legal grounds to sue for damages if the cause is more than a minor or remote factor.
Employers frequently employ pretexts for terminations, which appear to be acceptable at first glance. However, the employer is held accountable if an improper motive is even somewhat more than a minor one.
Unlawful Termination Factors: Whistleblowing and Retaliation
Whistleblowers are usually protected from reprisal under the law. Whistleblowers are individuals who disclose dangerous or illegal working conditions to law enforcement or government organizations (such as OSHA or the Labor Board). These people are safeguarded by:
§ 6310 of the Labor Code (complaints regarding hazardous or unhealthy working conditions);
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) section 1102.5 (for individuals who complain about or refuse to participate in unlawful activities). Employees who complain about Labor Code violations, such as the illegal designation of employees as independent contractors, missed rest periods or meals, and unpaid overtime, are covered under this provision.
Anti-retaliation laws have been improved in recent decades to provide stronger protection to whistleblowers. It protects employees who complain to their bosses, not just those who file grievances with government bodies. However, to be eligible for retaliation protection, you must:
have cause to think that the company is breaking applicable laws;
By reporting such a breach, you are acting with good intentions.
Before reporting the infraction to the authorities, you may need to notify the firm.
At-Will Employees and Constructive Termination
Although most wrongful termination cases need official termination, constructive termination may be regarded as an exception that supports a claim.
When work conditions become unpleasant to the point where it is unreasonable for the employer to expect any employee to continue working, constructive termination occurs, and the employee is forced to resign. If an employee is subjected to unacceptable harassment and the employer fails to stop it, the employee may have no choice but to quit his or her position.
Constructive termination is crucially similar to involuntary termination or unjust dismissal, all of which can lead to wrongful termination claims.
Possible Damages of Wrongful Termination
When a worker is unlawfully terminated, he or she may be entitled to compensation for lost benefits and pay in the future and damages for mental anguish. You may also be eligible to collect attorney fees and other legal expenses. Economic losses are straightforward to quantify, but various factors influence emotional distress damages.
If the employer's behavior was intentional, abhorrent, or performed in intentional contempt of the employee's legal rights, the court might determine that the employer pays punitive damages. Employees are incentivized by the size of wrongful termination verdicts and settlements, which are prevalent in these situations, and most cases are settled before trial. It's also possible that you'll be able to reclaim your position.
According to the California Supreme Court, employees may not be held accountable for legal costs or fees incurred by their employers unless the lawsuit is judged to be wholly frivolous or without merit. When an employee wins a wrongful termination action under the FEHA, the employer is accountable for the employee's attorney fees and costs.
Employees can use mediation and arbitration to settle their differences with an unbiased mediator, avoiding the need to go to court. This method is usually quicker and less expensive, and the employee can recover the same damages.
If you believe you were unlawfully terminated, you must act quickly since statutes of limitations and time limits apply. If you wait too long to initiate a lawsuit, you may lose your entitlement to compensation. You can defend your legal rights by doing the following:
Requesting a written explanation for your termination
obtaining a copy of all papers contained in your employee's personnel file
Maintaining a paper trail of all papers about your employment and subsequent termination.
Although your employer cannot force you to relinquish your right to sue for wrongful termination, most courts will not enforce such a release due to the high pressure of wrongful termination. Before you sign, take some time to think about it and consult with a California Employment Attorney.
If you are over the age of forty, you only have 21-45 days to contemplate retiring early. Before you make a decision, consult with a California Employment Law Attorney.
How Do I Recognize if I Have Been Wrongfully Terminated?
Unlike certain workplace situations where the answer is obvious, determining whether or not your termination was illegal is typically difficult. Most complaint systems require that an employee be fired before filing a claim. Therefore, the best course of action after being fired is to gather as much evidence as possible and speak with an experienced California Employment Attorney who can investigate and determine whether your termination was unjust.
If you're not sure whether or not your termination was legal, follow these steps to see if it was:
You have convincing proof (written, verbal, or otherwise) that you were fired due to discrimination.
You're aware of circumstantial evidence that you were fired because of your race. (Circumstantial evidence isn't proof; it may be that only women were dismissed or that you were fired after revealing a personal element like religion or pregnancy.)
You believe your coworkers treat you unfairly because of protected characteristics such as color, age, or gender.
You're aware of an employer or workplace supervisor expressing bias toward or against specific categories of individuals.
You believe your dismissal violates your written contract and/or any employee handbook covering disciplinary and termination procedures.
Your boss or bosses guaranteed that your employees would never be jeopardized.
You complained about harassment or another inappropriate employment issue, such as wage disparity or a lack of safety protocols (either to the employer or to an oversight agency).
Another employee advised you against taking official action against your boss.
Harassment was directed at you.
This might include inappropriate and unpleasant comments and discriminatory remarks made by a coworker or boss.
This harassment has been documented and/or witnessed by you.
What Do I Do Now That I’ve Been Wrongfully Fired?
1. Consider your options before taking action. Take note of your sentiments and do not act on them, even if you are furious, shocked, or frustrated. Any action taken without legal advice could be detrimental to your case if you decide to go to court.
2. Follow the processes once you've left your job. This includes returning any corporate property and exiting the premises when requested.
3. Understand your legal rights. Examine any employment documentation you signed, such as employee handbooks, anti-discrimination policies, and HR training on discrimination and termination. These documents may define or indicate procedures that were supposed to be followed in the event of termination but were not.
4. Consult with a Los Angeles Employment Attorney. Lawyers specializing in labor law and wrongful termination can assist you in understanding your rights and the numerous reporting and investigation options available to you.
5. Keep track of any evidence you come across. Any papers that support your complaints may be beneficial if you feel your termination was unjust and illegal. These can include the following:
Documents, such as internal reviews with a supervisor, personal comments on projects, any promises made by your boss, and anything that demonstrates your worth and commitment to the organization.
Negative documents, such as documentation, witnesses to claimed prejudice, or documents supporting your suspicions that your termination was handled incorrectly.
Emails, text messages, notes from face-to-face or group meetings, instant chats, social media, and other records and documents are examples of records and documents. Gather all you can and store it somewhere your employer won't find it.
6. Find out why you were fired. As far as feasible, discuss the reasons for your termination with your employer (usually the Human Resources department). You have the right to know who made the decision to fire you and to see your personnel file.
7. All agreements should be written down. This can be as basic as a paper that outlines the reasons for your termination as stated by your employer, as well as an acknowledgment that you were fired and did not resign. Should you pursue a severance package, continuous medical or dental coverage, or other salary or benefits, you should also establish this in writing.
8. Do not give in to threats. Although it is the employer's responsibility to guarantee that terminations are legal, people are the only ones who can contest them. Companies may be aware that they have committed an illegal act and choose to intimidate individuals rather than face a judicial process and severe actions. You are also solely accountable for your own safety and justice.
What Is The Definition of Retaliation in California Workplace?
Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer, labor organization, or employment agency takes unfavorable action against an employee, job applicant, or other covered individuals because they engaged in protected activity.
A circumstance in which you exercise Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rights that shield you against employment discrimination or harassment is considered protected activity. Protected activity can take many different forms. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees or applicants for:
Making a charge, a complaint, or a lawsuit about discrimination in the workplace
Taking part in an EEO complaint, accusation, inquiry, or litigation as a witness
Answering questioning in a probe into allegations of workplace harassment
Having a conversation with a boss about workplace discrimination and harassment
Defending yourself against sexual advances
Taking action to protect a coworker from harassment
Discrimination occurs when people refuse to follow orders
Requesting a religious or disability-related accommodation
Inquiring about compensation information from coworkers or managers to uncover potentially discriminatory salaries
Under no circumstances is your participation in a complaint or investigation process subject to retaliation. Other actions you take to oppose or expose discrimination are likewise protected if you were acting on reasonable suspicion of a potential violation of the EEO statute.
However, participating in EEO activities may not protect you from retaliation from your employer, including termination. This means that your employer is free to fire or penalize you if you are fired or disciplined for a non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory basis that would otherwise justify such actions.
Currently, your employer is not permitted by law to respond to an EEO activity in a way that discourages you from reporting or resisting future discrimination. If your employer acts in retaliation to your EEO activities in the following ways, it could be considered retaliation:
Give you a lesser value for your performance than you deserve
You are subjected to physical or verbal abuse.
Increasing the level of scrutiny
You were demoted to a lower-level position.
False rumors about you are being spread.
Negatively treat your family members by terminating a contract with your spouse.
Threaten you or report you to the authorities about your immigration status, for example.
Make your work environment more difficult by, for example, adjusting your schedule to conflict with family obligations.
What's the Difference Between Retaliation vs. Unlawful Retaliation?
Retaliation is considered unlawful when your employer wrongfully punishes you for engaging in EEO-protected activities or opposing illegal conduct. As a result, not all types of retaliation are prohibited. Protected activities cover a wide range of actions.
As a result, if you want to know or prove you've been the victim of retaliation, you'll need to know three things:
You took part in a protected activity.
Your employer's retaliatory action against you
Knowledge of a relationship, such as timing or words, between the adverse action you allege and the protected activity you participated in.
Protected Activities vs. Non-Protected Activities
Unfortunately, the law does not cover many sorts of wrongful employer behavior. This is a good example of when you file a general mistreatment complaint against your employer because your coworker is treated favorably because they share an interest, such as playing on the same adult soccer team. Complaining or reporting such behavior in this scenario would very certainly not be considered retaliation or legally protected activity.
Before making a report, consult with a California Employment Attorney if you have any questions about what constitutes protected activity. This enables you to have all of the pertinent information at your fingertips and select the best course of action.
Retaliation Laws in California
Complaining About Harassment or Discrimination
CA Government Code 12940 is perhaps the most well-known anti-retaliation statute in the state (h). This clause states that it is illegal for an employer, individual, employment agency, or labor organization to fire or discriminate against an employee for the following reasons:
Opposing illegal workplace practices
Making a formal complaint
Taking part in or testifying in any legal action brought against their company or supervisor.
Protesting Against Dangerous Workplaces
The state of California promotes safe working conditions. In fact, there is a full section of the labor code dedicated to workplace safety (Labor Code 6310).
Section (b) of the Labor Code 6310 protects any employee who is threatened with discharge or who is dismissed, suspended, demoted, or discriminated against in any other way by their employer because they filed a legitimate unsafe work environment complaint. Employees who have been terminated are entitled to reinstatement and compensation for lost earnings and any other benefits they have lost due to their termination.
Employees who have not made a claim but have participated in an employer-employee committee on occupational health and safety are likewise protected under this clause. Employers are also found guilty of a misdemeanor if they deliberately refuse to rehire, restore, or promote an employee who is entitled to promotion or rehiring through a lawfully permitted hearing, arbitration, or grievance procedure.
Refusal to Break a Law
It's possible that your supervisor will ask you to do or participate in criminal activities. Unfortunately, most people agree to do so because they fear losing their work. It is, however, illegal for your employer to retaliate against you if you decline to participate.
According to California Labor Code 1102.5(c), an employer, or anyone acting on their behalf, should not retaliate against an employee who refuses to participate in an illegal action under federal or state law. Employees who comply with federal, state, or municipal rules and laws despite their employer's preferences are likewise protected under this clause.
Do I Have Any Legal Rights if I Lose My Job?
You do have rights if you are fired, but because there are so many rules and procedures that are unique to each situation, it is preferable to see a California Wrongful Termination Lawyer who can provide competent and precise advice.
You may have the following rights:
Getting a look at your personnel file. Employers are required by law in most jurisdictions to share this information with you if an employee requests it. Make a copy and keep it somewhere secure. This can be useful in the event of a legal lawsuit — for example, your personnel file may have been amended after your termination in an attempt to show legal grounds.
Making a claim for wrongful termination. You can file a formal complaint against your employer, and an experienced California Employment Attorney can advise you on your legal options. Money damages, including legal fees, and statutory damages, such as employer fines, may be available in response to your claim. Most wrongful termination complaints in California are handled by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Negotiating a severance settlement is a difficult task. Unless stipulated in an employment contract or employee handbook, an employer cannot provide severance pay. However, you might be able to get a better deal if you agree to waive all legal rights against the company.
Steps to Filing a Retaliation Lawsuit in California
Before taking legal action, you should try to disclose any unfavorable employment activities to the responsible person and request that they refrain from doing so in the future. If this doesn't work, you should contact a Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer as soon as possible because:
They'll tell you whether or not you have a good case and how to continue.
In addition, there is the question of the statute of limitations, which applies to all employment claims (especially if you are a government entity employee). A California lawyer will tell you how much time you have left.
Your LA Wrongful Termination Lawyer must gather information and evidence about your case before filing a lawsuit so that it can be used in court. Waiting too long to contact a wrongful termination makes it more difficult for them to gather the necessary information.
If you have been fired in breach of public policy or have been subjected to unfavorable employment proceedings as a result of your protected activity, you are entitled to damages that include:
Benefits that have been lost
Emotional anguish causes harm.
Lawyer fees and costs
You must promptly engage an employment lawyer to represent you if you are fired in retaliation. On your behalf, your Wrongful Termination Lawyers In Los Angeles will negotiate your reinstatement and fair working conditions or seek suitable damages. They will also protect you from being pressured into accepting an unreasonable settlement by your employer's attorney.
Get In Touch With The Best California Wrongful Termination Lawyer
1000Attorneys.com is a California Bar Association-Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a prescreened wrongful termination lawyer best fit to handle your claims. Contact us on our 24/7 lawyer referral hotline at 1-661-310-7999 or complete our inquiry submission form for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION.