Can I Sue My Employer for Wrongful Termination?

Updated: May 24

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 an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles to handle your claims. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.

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What is Wrongful Termination?

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 are two examples of illegal reasons for firing an employee.

There is no single statute in the United States that protects employees against being fired without cause. Instead, a number of 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 prior to 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 as a consequence 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

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 Los Angeles Employment Lawyer 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, as well as 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, as well as the company's employee handbook's disciplinary procedures, can result in an agreement. When:

  • an offer is made by the employer

  • 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 conduct that was serious enough to breach the employment contract. When an employee's actions warrant the prompt termination of their employment contract, just cause is used.

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Some businesses purposefully mislead employees to the point that it's illegal. An employee must demonstrate the following to support a successful fraud claim:

  • In relation to the work, the 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 as a result of relying on the accuracy of the representations.

It can be difficult to prove that an employer intentionally misled you, but establishing the deception can help you recover a variety of damages, including the right to leave your old job and relocate closer to your new one.

In an At-Will Employment State, what is Wrongful Termination?

In common law, there are several types of wrongful termination:

  • terminations that are not in accordance with 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 member of a union, your collective bargaining agreement should specify how you'll be fired. Always pay close attention to:

  1. a contract for employment

  2. manuals for employees

  3. 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

When an employer enters into an implied contract with an employee, there are some exceptions. Even if there is no written employment contract, this holds true. Employers are allowed to make written or oral assurances about procedures and job security, which must be observed throughout disciplinary proceedings. Such representations, as well as 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 Califonia

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. When an employer terminates (or lays off) a worker for an illegal or unethical cause, the termination is termed wrongful. If you were fired for one of the following reasons, you might have a claim against your employer:

  • Disability discrimination

  • Pregnancy discrimination

  • Marital status discrimination

  • FMLA discrimination

  • LGTBQ discrimination

  • Religious beliefs discrimination

  • Age discrimination

  • Race discrimination

  • Gender discrimination

  • Whistleblower retaliation

  • 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:

  • whistleblowing

  • 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 a typical occurrence.

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 pretext for terminations, which appear to be acceptable at first glance. However, if an improper motive is even somewhat more than a minor one, the employer is held accountable.

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: