Updated: Nov 11
A Complete Guide For Wrongful Termination Claims In California
The significant limitations that California law puts on an employer's right to fire its workers are explained in this article.
Wrongful termination in California occurs when an employer ends an employment arrangement in violation of the employee's legal rights. In California, wrongful termination lawsuits may arise when an employer breaches a state or federal legislation, general public policy standards, the worker's employment contract, or some other element of the law.
California law provides workers with robust employment protections, some of which control how, where, and under what conditions an employee can be legally terminated. This article will take a closer look at these rights and clarify when, under California state law, an employer commits wrongful termination.
Who is an employee in California?
The precise meaning of the term "employee" would depend on the form of harm claimed by the worker. In most situations, if they operate under the oversight, direction, and control of an employer, a worker would be called an employee.
Employees vary from others who are called "independent contractors." An independent contractor sells a particular product or service to a corporation, but the company typically has no right to regulate the process by which that outcome is achieved.
In short, the more an employer or boss maintains power over the way a worker performs their jobs, the more likely the worker is to be treated by the courts as an employee.
Workers who are not employees may have claim against a corporation for breach of contract or violation of any other law (such as independent contractors or immediate family members). But for these reasons, terminating a contractual arrangement in which neither party is an employee does not legally count as a "termination."
Exceptions to "at-will" Employment.
In California, most work relationships are "at-will staff,"—which means that an employee can be fired for any reason at any time.
But a variety of exceptions to the general rule of at-will jobs have been defined by California labor law. These include:
An "implied contract" without reasonable reason not to terminate employment;
A violation of an implicit pact of good faith and fair dealing by the employer;
Wrongful termination in breach of public policy (for example, firing an employee because he/she failed to assist an employer in breach of the law or fulfilled a legal duty);4 and
Misrepresentation / Fraud.
For most workers dismissed, the implicit contract and public policy hypotheses of unfair dismissal are the most beneficial of these exceptions to at-will jobs.
An 'implicit contract' understands that all parties recognize, even though they have not signed a formal document to commemorate it.
By issuing an employee handbook detailing clear reasons why employees may be terminated or advising an employee that his/her job is secure as long as he/she does not do such things; an employer may establish an implicit contract not to terminate an employee for a good cause.
In breach of public policy, unfair termination usually occurs when an employee is fired for refusing to cooperate with an employer to perform actions contrary to the law or considered socially unacceptable.
For example, suppose an employee is fired for refusing to support an employer in breaching criminal fraud laws. In that case, he/she will have a compelling argument for unfair termination under public policy.
Security of Whistleblowers
So-called "whistleblower" retaliation is one common type of wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Whistleblower termination happens when an employer fires an employee for reporting to a government or law enforcement agency a possible breach of the law by the employer.
Labor Code 1102.5 LC is California's principal whistleblower protection statute. This law provides that employers can not discriminate against any employee who reports an alleged violation of the law by the employer to a government or law enforcement agency or to a supervisor or other employee who has the power to investigate or correct the violation (including by wrongfully firing)
More Complex Forms of Whistleblower Defense Are Provided by Other Legislation.
For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (a federal law intended to protect investors from fraudulent public company accounting) provides employees of publicly traded firms with the ability to sue for unfair termination if their employer dismisses them for reporting alleged securities fraud to the federal government or a supervisor.
The "qui tam" rule of the California False Claims Act is another significant whistleblower statute. On behalf of the state government, California's qui tam statute allows an employee to sue their boss. This applies whether, concerning government funds, the contractor has committed bribery or embezzlement.
The California employee has the right to sue for wrongful termination if an employer subsequently retaliates against or terminates an employee for filing a qui tam suit.
Wrongful Termination Under The Housing and Equal Work Act
The Equal Jobs and Housing Act of California, the key state law banning abuse in the workplace and discrimination in employment, makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against workers who
To condemn abuse or racism,
File a harassment or prejudice case, or a case
Testify or help with any abuse or discrimination, inquiry, or complaint.
Constructive Wrongful Termination in California
It is possible for a California employee to sue their employers for unfair termination under California's' unfair constructive termination' /'constructive discharge' rules, even if they are not immediately fired from a job. Constructive termination suggests that an employer makes working conditions for an employee so unbearable that he/she has little choice but to leave.
An employee could be in a position to sue for constructive wrongful termination if:
Intentionally established or purposely approved working conditions by his/her employer that were so unbearable that a reasonable employer would expect an employee to resign because of them; and
The employer would not have been entitled (because of an implicit oral contract or because termination would have been against public policy) to directly fire the employee.
Furthermore, many California workplace retaliation laws forbid employers from retaliating against workers in ways other than termination or constructive termination — including laws against whistleblower retaliation and FEHA retaliation.
Activities in Politics
If they lose their job due to political actions or voice, California workers can sometimes sue their employers for unfair termination.
The First U.S. Amendment. The Constitution does not extend to private employer terminations. 12 However, California labor law also provides that employers cannot regulate or direct the political activities or speech of their workers. Thus, the right to sue for wrongful dismissal is granted to an employee who is fired for political involvement.
If they are dismissed for joining a trade union or engaging in union activity, California workers also have valid grounds for a wrongful termination claim.
WARN Act Of California
Another variant on unfair termination is an employer's inability to comply with the Worker Retraining and Notification (WARN) Act of California.
The Alert Act of California allows employers to give sixty (60) days ' notice to workers before a mass layoff of fifty (50) or more workers are carried out or a facility is closed or relocated. It extends to all employers with a minimum of seventy-five (75) jobs.
If the employer fails to offer a 60-day notice, workers can sue for the period when the notice falls short of 60 days for wages and benefits.
In California, How Can I Bring a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
If you lose your job and think you might have a wrongful termination claim against the former employer, you should:
Get a referral to a pre-screened, ethical and experienced employment lawyer, ; and
Gather all available evidence relevant to your case.
Gathering documentation consists of acquiring and storing all written records that your employer has provided you with relating to your termination and job performance before termination (e.g., your termination letter, copies of all previous performance reviews).
If you have not saved them yourself, you might need to request any of these documents from your boss. (If you don't respond to these requests from your boss, an attorney will help you make them stronger.)
But in a wrongful discharge case, oral communications can also be relevant facts. Under California law, discussions about your termination itself, discussions about your job results, and any discussion that led you to shape those assumptions about your job security are all potentially important.
It's very important to write down and save your recollections of all conversations with management or other workers that might be related to your termination in a safe location. For all these discussions, the date, position, and participants should be noted in these written documents.
In the collection of evidence for a lawsuit, an employment California lawyer can play an important role. Your employment lawyer will assist you in deciding what proof would be important as the case moves forward.
How Do I Request An Unbiased Referral To A Pre-Screened, Ethical California Wrongful Termination Lawyer?
You can submit a request online 24 hours a day. Free case review within 15 minutes.
By calling the employee right's 24-hour hotline at 1-661-310-7999