What To Do When You Get Fired Unfairly In California

Updated: Jan 27

Wrongful Termination: Knowing Your Employee Rights Against Illegal Firing


Under California Employment Law, Wrongful Termination occurs when an employee's position is terminated in violation of a contract or public policy. This makes wrongful termination an illegal act, and an employee who has been on the receiving end of such has the right to file a claim under California Employment Law.


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Who Is Eligible To File A Wrongful Termination Claim?

When it comes to wrongful termination, your eligibility to file the claim will depend on whether or not you have signed a contract or working as an "at-will" worker.

  • Employees With Contracts. An employment contract is defined as a written agreement between an employer and an employee that spells out the terms of the worker's employment and the reasons for terminating it.

  • "At-Will Employees". However, in California, the job status defaults to at-will employment if there is no employment contract in place. At-will employment indicates that any party can end the working relationship at any moment for any reason if the employee is not in a protected class. Thus, the termination of someone in that covered class who is also an at-will employee is the source of many unjust termination complaints.

However, both types of employees are entitled to protection from firing them for illegal reasons. So while at-will employees may not be able to sue for breach of contract (because there are no contracts in the first place), they are still eligible to file a Wrongful Termination claim for firing them on unlawful grounds.

Under California law, at-will employees have several essential rights, including:

  1. If the worker's capacity to work is impaired owing to pregnancy; or the employment poses an unnecessary risk to the worker or her unborn child, equitable accommodations should be granted (if the employer has more than five employees).

  2. Guaranteed leave for specific scenarios if the firm has at least 50 employees, such as:

  3. An employee is afflicted with a severe sickness (or health condition)

  4. A loved one or family member of an employee (such as a spouse, kid, or parent) is or is suffering from a serious disease, and the employee is responsible for caring for them.

  5. The birth or adoption of a child.

Wrongful Termination On Independent Contractors

On the other hand, independent contractors in California are not entitled to any of the rights mentioned above and are typically precluded from initiating unjust termination actions. On the other hand, the state has recently expanded on the definition of employee to ensure that employers have the same rights and benefits as employees.

To prove that an employee is an independent contractor, the employer must show the following:

  • It has no say in how a person performs their duties.

  • The employee is providing a service that is not usually provided by the company.

  • The employee maintains a separate corporation, trade, or activity from that of the employer.


What Are The Grounds To Sue For Wrongful Termination In California?


Wrongful termination cases can take many different shapes. Here are a handful of the more well-known examples:

1. Contractual Breach

This is the type of Wrongful Termination claim that contract employees might bring.


For example, assume that an employment contract contains specific clauses for termination and that the employee is fired for a reason other than those listed or before the contract's full term has expired. In this instance, the employee may launch a claim for wrongful termination.


2. Retaliation

It is illegal to fire an employee as an act of revenge or punishment. For example, if an employee sought out to report their employer for OSHA complaints, their employers are not allowed to retaliate against them for it.

As such, it is also illegal to terminate an employee in California for:

  • Reporting criminal conduct

  • Submitting a workers' compensation claim

  • Registering workplace safety complaints

  • Reporting violations of the state's labor code (such as failing to provide employees with necessary breaks, mealtimes, or overtime).

In that situation, a wrongful termination lawsuit could result in back pay, damages, and reinstatement.


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3. Wrongful Termination Based On Discrimination

Discrimination and termination based on the characteristics of a protected class of workers is also illegal. In California, it is illegal or unlawful for an employer to fire an employee because of the following:

If you report a violation of state or federal labor laws to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (FEHA) or speak out against an employer's violation of those laws, you will be protected from retaliation.

Protection from being fired due to a disability and an employer's incapacity to make reasonable adjustments for that condition. Employees are protected by anti-discrimination regulations in the workplace.

4. Violation Of The Family Rights Act of California.


As mentioned earlier, employers with 50 or more employees must provide up to 12 weeks of leave to workers after the birth or adoption of a child(ren). This is also true when an employee chooses to care for oneself or a family member suffering from a serious illness. In addition, employees have the option of accruing and using up to three days of sick leave every year.

Sick leave can be carried over from year to year, with a maximum of 6 days allowed per year. Employees can utilize sick leave to diagnose, treat, and care for medical conditions that they or a covered family member are experiencing and receive primary care. In addition, employees who need civil, medical, or social assistance due to domestic abuse should take advantage of sick days.

As a result, if your employer refuses to grant you an FMLA leave or fires you for requesting it, you should contact a California Employment Attorney as soon as possible.

What Is Constructive Discharge?


Constructive discharge is another type of Wrongful Termination that occurs when an employer makes working conditions so unpleasant for an employee that they have no alternative but to leave.

An employee must show that the working conditions were terrible to the point of resignation. In addition, they must prove that their employer either intended the employee to resign or knew about the unacceptable conditions and refused to change them.

Here are some instances of work situations that could result in a constructive discharge claim:

  • Your working hours were reduced by your boss.

  • Your pay was cut without cause.

  • Due to constant workplace bullying, your employer pushed you to resign.

It's important to remember that leaving rather than being fired because of poor working circumstances might result in the loss of some benefits available to terminated employees, such as unemployment insurance and the opportunity to sue your employer for wrongful termination.

What Evidence Can I Present to Show That My Working Conditions Are Intolerable?


Learn what California law considers intolerable working circumstances; this is if you wish to persuade a court that you were forced to leave your employment due to hostile working conditions. For example, if your supervisor is constantly bullying you, shouting at you, or criticizing you, you may be able to launch a case.

Demonstrating constructive discharge might be difficult. However, an employee must be able to show the following to prove constructive discharge under California labor law:

  • Workplace circumstances were intolerable, prompting any reasonable person to depart from their post.

  • Either the employer was aware of the terrible working conditions and purposefully permitted them to continue, or the employer's motivations were to force the employee to leave.

You must also state that the events mentioned above occurred within a reasonable time after you decided to leave your job. Your employment lawyer may need to aid you in demonstrating your case to ensure that you have a valid claim.