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What To Do When You Get Fired Unfairly In California

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

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:

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

    2. 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.

    3. The birth or adoption of a child.

Wrongful Termination Of 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 the company does not usually provide.

  • 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.

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. Anti-discrimination regulations in the workplace protect employees.

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 herself or a family member suffering from a serious illness. In addition, employees can accrue and use 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 boss reduced your working hours.

  • 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 abovementioned events occurred reasonably 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.

Employees frequently misunderstand regular workplace stress as a justification to quit and file a wrongful termination claim that will never be established in court. If you have any concerns, contact an experienced Los Angeles Employment Lawyer.

What Should You Do After Getting Wrongfully Terminated?

1. Gather Evidence

Following your termination, gather the information that will be used as evidence in your claim. You must act quickly since you will not be permitted to return to work once you have left. Among the details, you might gather the name and contact information of the person who took the decision to terminate your employment, as well as the reason for the termination.

You should also get the names and contact information of any coworkers or witnesses to the incident. You can also acquire any evidence, such as emails, files, or text conversations that will help you prove that the termination was illegal.

Our prescreened California employment lawyers will usually listen to the details of your case for free and explain your legal alternatives for redress under the state's employment and civil rights laws.

For the sake of the case, your Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles will document your employment application, employment handbook, and any employment agreement you made with the business. In addition, your official job description, documentation of pre-employment screening, your resume, payroll records, and coworkers with intimate knowledge of your working condition are all examples of data that your attorney would evaluate while evaluating your case.

2. Tell The Right Agencies

Notify the appropriate federal or state authorities. You must first file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a federal discrimination complaint in court. If your state has legislation prohibiting discrimination on the same grounds, you must submit a discrimination claim within 180 days of the wrongful termination.

  • If they do not accept your case, you must file a "Notice of the Right to Sue" with FEHA. Then, within a year of the incidence of unjust termination you intend to take to court, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing may give this.

  • The department will decide whether to investigate the situation if you register a complaint with the state. You can file a lawsuit in state civil court or a federal complaint if the agency fails to prosecute the case.

  • You can use the employer's dispute resolution services if the agency investigates the complaint. However, the department will file a wrongful termination lawsuit on your behalf if your matter is not settled.

You only have a year from filing the Notice of Right to Sue to launch a lawsuit. The claim will not be transmitted to the federal government if the department refuses to prosecute the matter, and you will not be represented at the state trial.

What Damages Can I Claim?

Wrongful Termination is a civil tort, which means plaintiffs must submit their claims in civil courts and seek damages from the parties involved. Both economic and non-economic damages may be claimed in wrongful termination cases.

Among the damages that must be paid are:

  • Wages, salaries, and commissions were lost due to the termination.

  • The employee would have earned future earnings had they not been unlawfully fired.

  • Loss of benefits.

Reinstatement is a possibility if the employee can return to work. If the individual is recalled, they will return to work with the same level of seniority as when they were fired.

You will forfeit future salaries if reinstatement is not an option. Reinstatement is frequently not an option due to the hostility between the employer and the employee (as a result of the termination and unjust termination actions). Instead of rehiring the employee, the company must give them the wage they would have received if a new position had been found.

In addition to monetary damages, employees may seek non-economic damages. Non-economic damages refer to the psychological effects of wrongful termination on an employee's life. Non-economic damages include emotional distress and a loss of professional credibility, to name a few.

Most wrongful termination cases are resolved without going to court, saving the employer money on legal expenditures.

Retaliation-Based Terminations

In California, your bosses are prohibited from retaliating against employees who complain about their bosses. Any violations of the guidelines should be reported to the authorities:

  • Retaliation is because of objecting, submitting a complaint, or participating in an investigation.

  • Make a legitimate accommodation request based on your disability or religious beliefs.

  • Filing or assisting in a "qui tam" action under the California False Claims Act.

These workplace anti-retaliation regulations fill a fundamental gap in California employment law. Although workers are protected from unjust termination in some circumstances, employees who do not lose their employment but instead encounter discrimination, harassment, or other types of retaliation at work may find it more difficult to obtain legal remedies.

Employees who face retaliation from their employers for exercising their rights under these laws have legal recourse under California's whistleblower statutes and retaliation laws under the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA").

How Do You Know Your Boss Is Retaliating?

The following is the basic legal definition of workplace retaliation in California: Your employer takes retaliatory action against you or mistreats you because you engaged in a protected practice.

Assume your employer retaliates against you for exercising your legal rights by making your working conditions intolerable to the point that you have no choice but to leave. In that instance, you might be able to sue your employer for wrongful termination.

However, other forms of workplace retaliation can be more subtle–and hence more difficult to identify. Some apparent signals that your supervisor is retaliating against you include:

  • You begin to receive bad performance assessments, even though your previous reviews were positive.

  • Your to-do lists and work tasks have inexplicably grown.

  • You've been allocated to shifts that are demanding or exhausting.

  • Your supervisors exclude you from meetings and communications, making it impossible for you to finish your work.

  • You've been passed over for a promotion or raise that you think you're due.

  • You're facing disciplinary action due to false claims or a lack of evidence.

  • You are denied access to services or training that might assist you in maintaining a high standard of work or progressing in your profession.

Under California Labor Code 1102.5 LC, employers or firms are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report alleged illegal activity (by their company/employer) to a government or law enforcement agency.

You should be able to present evidence or testify before any government agency conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry into a possible breach of law by their employer. You can also report alleged violations to your HR, manager, or anyone else at the company with the capacity and authority to investigate the violation.

LC 1102.5 is a law that protects "whistleblowers." Employees who report alleged legal wrongdoing by their employer under a whistleblower protection act are usually protected from both termination and less serious types of workplace reprisal.

If it comes out that your employer did not break the rule, the whistleblower retaliation legislation protects you. It doesn't matter if you reasonably suspected that your supervisor had done something illegal.

FEHA Protections

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (the "FEHA") protects employees against retaliation if they perform any of the following:

  • Oppose workplace harassment, discrimination, and an employer's failure to provide required pregnancy/family leave.

  • Make a report of harassment or discrimination.

  • Helping, participating, or testifying in any FEHA-related proceeding.

  • Request workplace accommodations due to their religious beliefs or observances or as a result of a disability.

Under California employment law, FEHA retaliation arises if an employee's each of the above activities is a primary motivating cause for adverse employment conduct against, or unfair treatment by, that employee.

False Claims Act Retaliation in the Workplace (Qui Tam)

Retaliation by employers against employees who use their rights under the California False Claims Act is also illegal.

Under the False Claims Act, employees in California can file a "qui tam" lawsuit against an employer who is committing fraud, bribery, or misappropriation of government funds. (A "qui tam" case is when a private citizen sues on behalf of a government entity).

The workplace retaliation provisions of the California False Claims Act prohibit your employer from retaliating against you if you:

  • Bring a qui tam lawsuit (or if you help in some way with a qui tam suit)

  • You want to avoid a violation of the California False Claims Act.

Damages that a Retaliation Lawsuit Can Recover

In California, damages in a wrongful termination case differ from damages in a workplace retaliation action. This is because wrongful termination damages frequently include the amount of missed income and perks owing to the plaintiff's loss of employment.

Damages in a workplace retaliation action, on the other hand, are more likely to include:

  • Physical discomfort, loss of pleasure in life, and/or anxiety are damages for mental anguish caused by job abuse.

  • Damages for harm to one's professional reputation caused by retaliatory adverse job actions (such as demotion, being denied a promotion, or being denied professional development or work opportunities)

  • Salary is lost due to a retaliatory demotion or rejection of a promotion or raise.

Don't be afraid to seek help if you've been the victim of workplace retaliation.

The time limit for launching a lawsuit against an employer can be relatively short in some instances. The statute, for example, protects your rights if you report a workplace safety issue to OSHA or a corporation's breach of specific finance/healthcare regulations.

If your employer retaliated against you by behaving badly, the employer must provide proof to justify and illustrate the action. In addition, to be considered retaliation, an employer's actions against an employee must hurt the employee's ability to work or create a hostile work environment.

The Procedure for Filing an Employment Lawsuit

Employment litigation is infamous for being complicated and time-consuming. You might be interested in learning more about what happens throughout a lawsuit.

What are the steps in the procedure? At each stage of the process, what would your Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles do for you? Here are a few things to prepare you for them:

1. Preliminary Motions, Complaints are Filed

Your California Wrongful Termination Lawyer will first listen to your account, acquire all of your documents, and, in some situations, attempt to settle your case without going to court. Because your team wants to understand all of the details before filing your lawsuit, this stage can take a long time.

If an early settlement is not possible, your Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles will write a lawsuit against the defendants. After that, the clock starts ticking, and the employer has to react until the end of the day, or a default judgment will be entered. The corporation's legal counsel would almost probably try to dismiss your case as quickly as feasible. This is virtually never a good idea.

california wrongful termination

2. Depositions, Investigations

Following the completion of the first stage of the case, the most challenging portion of the case is the discovery process. To put it another way, "discovery" refers to how your Los Angeles Employment Lawyer obtains proof and paperwork from the defense lawyers and vice versa.

Documentation, admissions, and the names of key witnesses are requested in writing. After that, the witnesses are interrogated. When a lawyer sits down with a witness and grills them about the facts of the case, this is known as a deposition. Both depositions are videotaped, and the recording is played at the trial.

3. Mediation, Settlement

Typically, the parties strive to settle the lawsuit at some point during discovery or before trial. This usually takes the form of "mediation," which is a process in which all parties involved in a dispute, including employment attorneys and their clients, interact with a neutral third-party mediator who assists the parties in reaching an agreement.

A retired employment lawyer or judge is usually the mediator. The judge will require all parties to attend a mandatory settlement conference if it fails.

4. Trial, Appeals

On average, most employment law issues are resolved without the need for a trial. But, unfortunately, some firms refuse to compromise. This is why choosing your legal counsel is critical and why experienced California Employment Attorneys with experience handling similar situations are your best bet.

Find the Best Wrongful Termination Lawyers Near You

If you have been discriminated against, Wrongfully Terminated, threatened, or retaliated against at work, you are entitled to compensation for medical costs, back pay, front wages, past and future pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

Our prescreened Employment Lawyers in Los Angeles understand that an employment dispute can cost people their jobs and livelihoods, their health and mental well-being, and financial security. In these cases, the stakes are enormous.

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