Suing for Wrongful Termination in California
Updated: Apr 26
What to do when your employer illegally fires you
In simple terms, wrongful termination is when an employee's job is terminated in breach of a contract or public law. An employer and an employee may sometimes enter into an employment contract that sets out the terms of the worker's employment as well as the reasons for terminating the employment.
However, in California, if there is no employment contract in effect, the employment status defaults to at-will employment. If the employee is not in a protected class, at-will employment means that any party can terminate the working relationship at any time for any reason. Many unfair termination cases stem from the termination of someone in that covered class who is also an at-will employee.
At-will employees in California are afforded many basic rights under California law, including:
As long as the employer has more than five workers, fair accommodations are guaranteed if the worker's capacity to work is limited due to pregnancy or the job poses an unnecessary risk to the worker or her unborn child.
As long as the employer has at least 50 workers, guaranteed leave for particular circumstances such as:
An employee is suffering from a severe illness (or health condition)
An employee's loved one or family member (such as their spouse, child, or parent) is/are suffering from a serious illness, and the employee needs to take care of them.
The birth or adoption of a child(ren)
Discrimination is prohibited, including termination for reasons of sex, race, or membership in a protected class of workers. Employees are covered on the grounds of religion; gender-related circumstances, such as pregnancy or breastfeeding; gender identity or expression; sexual orientation; medical status; a medical condition, including genetic abnormalities, disease, or a history of cancer; military or veteran status; country of origin; race; ancestry; mental or physical illness and disability (including those requesting family leave or leave to deal with a mental or physical disability); employees requesting family leave or leave to deal with a mental or physical disability, etc.
For example, it is unlawful for a California employer to fire an employee due to:
Other forms of discrimination:
Requesting a medical leave
Requesting reasonable accommodation for a disability
Filing a complaint about sexual harassment
Protection from retaliation if you report a violation of state or federal labor laws to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, participate in an investigation led by that department, or oppose an employer's violation of those laws.
Protection from being fired because of a disability and an employer's inability to make adequate accommodations for that disability. Anti-discrimination laws in the workplace cover employees. On the other hand, independent contractors are not entitled to any of the above rights and are usually barred from filing unfair termination lawsuits. However, the state recently broadened employee definition to ensure that employers enjoy the same rights and benefits as employees.
The employer must demonstrate the following to prove that an employee is an independent contractor:
It has no say about how a person goes about doing his or her job.
The employee is delivering a service that is not part of the company's regular operations.
The employee maintains a separate corporation, trade, or occupation from that of the employer on a regular basis.
Grounds for Wrongful Termination
Wrongful termination cases come in a variety of forms. Here are a few of the most famous ones:
Breach of contract: This is the kind of unfair termination lawsuit that contracted workers can file. Suppose an employment contract specifies particular reasons for termination and the employee is fired for a reason other than those specified or before the contract's full term. In that case, the employee may file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Termination for ulterior motives: An employer could fire an at-will employee for "cause" when the real reason for termination was discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, or another protected class. Suppose the employee may demonstrate that his or her protected status played a major role in the firing. In that case, he or she may be entitled to back pay, damages, and reinstatement through a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Another form of wrongful termination is constructive discharge, which occurs when an employer makes working conditions so unbearable for an employee that he or she has little choice but to leave. An employee must demonstrate that the working conditions were exceptionally intolerable and that the employer either intended for the employee to resign or had knowledge of the intolerable conditions and refused to fix them.
The following are some examples of working circumstances that may lead to a constructive discharge claim: your employer cut your hours or reduced your pay without cause, or your employer forced you to resign due to mistreatment. It should be remembered that resigning rather than being fired due to unfair working conditions can result in the loss of certain rights provided to terminated workers, such as unemployment insurance and the right to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer.
Discrimination-based termination: California's anti-discrimination laws are among the most strict in the world, covering far more categories of citizens than the federal government's laws do. (Details already discussed above)
Termination for violating the California Family Rights Act. The Act mandates employers (with 50 or more workers) to offer up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to employees for the child's birth or adoption. This also applies when an employee decides to care for themselves or a family member suffering from a severe medical condition. Employees are also entitled to sick leave, with the right to accrue and use up to three days each year.
Sick leave can be carried on from year to year, with a limit of 6 days of sick leave being used each year. Employees can use sick leave to diagnose, treat, and care for an employee's or a covered family member's medical problems and get primary care. Employees who are victims of domestic abuse who need civil, medical, or social assistance should take advantage of sick days.
Termination for reporting abuse or retaliation: In California, it is unlawful to fire an employee for reporting illegal activity, filing a workers' compensation claim, filing complaints about workplace safety, or reporting violations of the state's labor code, such as failing to provide employees with necessary breaks, mealtimes, and overtime.
What Should I Do?
Start collecting details that will serve as evidence when you file your lawsuit as soon as possible after your termination. It's important to act fast because you won't be allowed to return to work once you've left. The name and contact information of the person who made the decision to terminate your job, as well as the specified reason for the termination, are among the specifics you can gather.
You should also collect the names and contact information of colleagues or those who witnessed the events. You can also gather any records that can help you show that the termination was unlawful, such as emails, files, or text messages.
Our prescreened California employment attorneys will usually listen to the particulars of your situation for free and explain your legal options for redress under the state's employment and civil rights laws. Your wrongful termination lawyer will document your employment application, employee handbook, any arrangement you entered into with the employer about your employment for the case. Your official job description, proof of pre-employment screening, your resume, payroll records, and colleagues that have detailed knowledge about your working situation are all examples of facts that your counsel will consider while considering your case.
Notify the appropriate authorities at the federal or state level. Before bringing a federal discrimination complaint to court, you must first file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the state has a law banning discrimination on the same basis, the claim of discrimination must be filed within 180 days of the unfair termination.
If FEHA doesn't take your case, you must file a "Notice of the Right to Sue" with them. California Department of Fair Employment and Housing may provide this within a year of the incident of unfair termination you want to take to court.
If you file a complaint with the state, the department will determine whether or not to look into the matter. If the agency fails to prosecute the case, you have the option of filing a lawsuit in state civil court or filing a federal complaint.
If the agency investigates the complaint, you have the option of using the employer's dispute resolution services. In the event that your case is not resolved, the department will file a wrongful termination lawsuit on your behalf.
You have one year from the day you filed the Notice of Right to Sue to bring a wrongful termination case in court. If the department refuses to prosecute the case, the claim will not be forwarded to the federal government, and you will not be represented at the state trial.
Damages for Wrongful Termination
Wrongful termination is a civil tort, which means that plaintiffs must file their cases in civil courts and demand damages from the responsible parties. In wrongful termination proceedings, both economic and non-economic damages may be recovered. Claimants' out-of-pocket costs as a result of the unfair terminations are referred to as economic damages.
Among the payable damages are:
Wages/Salaries/Commissions lost as a result of the dismissal.
Loss of benefits that the employee was entitled to as a result of his or her work
If the employee can return to work, reinstatement is an option. If the employee is recalled, they will resume work at the same degree of seniority as before the termination.
If reinstatement is not an option, you will lose future salaries. Owing to the level of hostility between the employer and the employee (as a result of the termination and unfair termination proceedings) reinstatement is often not an option. Instead of re-employment, the employer must pay the employee the salary he or she would have received before a new job is found.
Employees may request non-economic damages in addition to monetary damages. The traumatic consequences of wrongful firing on an employee's life are referred to as non-economic damages. Emotional distress and loss of professional integrity are only a few examples of non-economic losses.
The majority of wrongful termination cases are settled out of court, saving the employer money on legal fees.
Wrongful Termination as a Result of Retaliation
Employers in California are forbidden from retaliating against workers who complain about their supervisors.
Inform the authorities of any breaches of the rules.
Object to, file a complaint against, or take part in an investigation into sexual harassment or discrimination.
Make a valid accommodation request due to a disability or religious convictions.
Under the California False Claims Act, you file or assist in a "qui tam" case.
These anti-retaliation provisions in the workplace address a major void in California employment law. Although workers are shielded from unfair termination in a number of cases, employees who do not lose their jobs but instead face adverse workplace conduct, harassment, or other forms of retaliation at work can have a more difficult time seeking legal redress.
Employees whose employers retaliate against them–but do not fire them–for exercising their rights under these laws have legal recourse under California's whistleblower laws and Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") retaliation laws.
How to Tell if The Boss is Retaliating in the Workplace
In California, the following is the basic legal definition of workplace retaliation:
Since you participated in a protected practice, your employer takes adverse job action against you or treats you unfairly.
It's easy to detect a case of alleged unfair termination when the adverse employment action is a termination (job loss).
Similarly, suppose your employer reacts to your exercise of legal rights by making your working conditions unbearable to the point where you have no choice but to leave. In that case, you might have a case for wrongful termination against the employer.
Other types of workplace retaliation, on the other hand, can be more subtle–and harder to detect. The following are some telltale signs that your boss is retaliating against you:
Even if your previous reviews were favorable, you begin to receive negative performance reviews.
Your workload has increased.
You've been assigned to shifts that are exhausting or difficult.
Your bosses keep you out of meetings and communications and make it impossible for you to complete your tasks.
You've been passed over for a promotion or raise that you believe you deserve.
You're facing disciplinary action based on false allegations or insufficient facts.
You are refused access to services or training that would help you maintain the standard of your work or advance in your career.
Employer Retaliation for Reporting a Law Breach or Whistleblowing
It is unlawful for employers or companies to retaliate against workers who disclose alleged illegal activity (by their company/employer) to a government or law enforcement agency under California Labor Code 1102.5 LC.
You should be able to show information or testify before any government agency holding an investigation, hearing, or inquiry into a possible breach of law by their employer, or report an alleged violation of a law or regulation to your HR, manager, or any other person at the company who has the capacity and authority to investigate the violation.
LC 1102.5 is a "whistleblower protection" statute. Employees are usually shielded from both firing/termination and less serious forms of workplace retaliation if they disclose alleged legal wrongdoing by their employer under a whistleblower protection statute.
And if it turns out that your employer did not violate the rule, you are shielded by the whistleblower retaliation law. All that matters is that you had a reasonable suspicion that your boss had committed an unlawful act.
The prosecutor investigates the investigation and finds no evidence of wrongdoing. However, she tells the company's CEO that Nikolai was the one who told her of his suspicions.
Retaliation in the Workplace under the FEHA
Employees are protected from retaliation under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (the "FEHA") if they do any of the following:
Oppose acts of abuse or discrimination in the workplace, as well as an employer's failure to offer required pregnancy/family leave.
Create a harassment or discrimination report.
Testify or assist with any FEHA-related proceeding.
Request accommodations in the workplace because of their religious views or observances or because of a disability.
If either of the above acts by an employee is a major motivating factor for adverse employment conduct against, or unfair treatment by, that employee, FEHA retaliation occurs under California employment law.
Workplace Retaliation under the False Claims Act (Qui Tam)
Employer retaliation against workers who exercise their rights under the California False Claims Act is also prohibited.
Employees in California may bring a so-called "qui tam" case against an employer who is committing fraud, bribery, or embezzlement of government funds under the False Claims Act. (A "qui tam" case is one brought on behalf of a government agency by a private citizen.)9
The California False Claims Act's workplace retaliation provisions bar your employer from retaliating against you if you:
File a qui tam suit (or if you help in some way with a qui tam suit)
You make an attempt to avoid a breach of the California False Claims Act.
Retaliation in the Workplace in California: Litigation and Damages
Employees who experienced retaliation from their employer have a variety of options under California workplace retaliation laws.
Suppose you believe you have been the target of whistleblower retaliation. In that case, you must first contact the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency via an online submission form and your employer via certified mail under Labor Code 1102.5 LC.
The Labor and Workplace Development Agency can then decide to investigate your complaint after you file this notice. If it declines, you have the option of filing a case in California Superior Court.
Retaliation in the workplace under the FEHA
Your first step should be to file a report with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing if your employer retaliates against you for exercising your rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (DFEH).
Once the DFEH issues you a "right to sue" notice, you can sue your employer for workplace retaliation. If you are a victim of workplace retaliation, you can bring a lawsuit against your employer right away under the California False Claims Act.
Damages You Can Claim for a Retaliation Lawsuit
Damages in a wrongful termination case in California will vary from damages in a workplace retaliation case. This is because the amount of missed payments and benefits due to the plaintiff's work loss is commonly included in wrongful termination damages.
However, damages in a workplace retaliation case are more likely to include:
Damages for emotional distress caused by workplace mistreatment, such as physical discomfort, loss of enjoyment of life, and/or anxiety
Damages for professional reputational damage incurred by retaliatory adverse job acts (such as demotion, being denied a promotion, or being denied professional development or work opportunities)
A retaliatory demotion or rejection of a promotion or increase results in lost salaries.
If you are a victim of workplace retaliation, don't hesitate to seek help.
In certain cases, the time limit for filing a lawsuit against the employer is very short. Do not be a victim of employment discrimination or abuse because strict regulations cover workers living and working in California. For example, if you reported a workplace safety issue to OSHA or a company breach of certain finance/healthcare regulations, the legislation protects your rights.
If your employer retaliated by behaving negatively against you, the employer must show evidence justifying and illustrating the action. An employer's behavior against an employee must have a detrimental effect on the employee's ability to work or establish a hostile work atmosphere to be deemed as retaliation.
What is a Constructive Discharge?
Employees in California who are fired have some legal protections that they would not have if they were to leave, such as the right to file wrongful termination charges and unemployment benefits eligibility. Furthermore, if an employee and employer have an employment contract, the constructive discharge doctrine will also preclude an employer from firing employees without cause.
According to the California Supreme Court, constructive discharge (also known as constructive dismissal or constructive termination) happens when an employer's actions effectively compel an employee to leave. Even if an employee eventually quits the job and says, "I quit," the employer-employee partnership is involuntarily severed due to the employer's derogatory actions or unreasonable working conditions. This suggests that the termination was coerced upon the employee and thus resembled a firing—or, in other words, a constructive discharge.
How Can I Prove that My Working Conditions are Intolerable?
If you want to convince a court why you were forced to leave your job due to unacceptable working conditions, learn what California law considers to be intolerable. You might be entitled to file a lawsuit if you were subjected to constant bullying, shouting, or disparaging behavior by your boss.
It can be difficult to prove constructive discharge. To prove constructive discharge under California labor law, an employee must be able to show the following:
Workplace conditions were exceptionally unbearable, causing any fair employee to resign from their position.
The employer was either aware of the inhumane working conditions and deliberately allowed them to persist, or the employer's motives were to compel the employee to leave.
You must also indicate that the above activities happened within a reasonable period of your decision to leave your job. To ensure that you have a legitimate claim, your employment lawyer may need to assist you in proving your case.
Employees often misinterpret everyday work stress as an excuse to leave and file a wrongful firing charge, which will never be proven in court. Consult an accomplished employment lawyer if you have any concerns.
An Employment Lawsuit's Process
Employment lawsuits are notoriously difficult and time-consuming. You may be curious about what happens during a lawsuit. What are the phases of the process? What would your labor lawyer do for you at each point of the process? Do they either go to the judge and file some papers and then sit back? No way. That's not even near.
Filing of the Complaint and Preliminary Motions
Your wrongful termination lawyer will first listen to your story, gather all of your records, and, in some cases, try to resolve your case without going to court. This stage can take a long time because your team wants to learn all of the details before filing your lawsuit. If an early settlement is not necessary, your employment legal counsel will draft a lawsuit and serve it on the defendants. The clock starts ticking, and the employer has until the end of the day to respond or face a default judgment. The corporation's counsel would almost certainly attempt to file a motion to dismiss your case as soon as possible. These are almost never good.
Depositions & Investigation
After the first stage of the case is finished, the most complicated stage of the case begins discovery. To put it another way, "discovery" applies to the method by which your employment attorney collect proof and documentation from the defense lawyers and vice versa. Written requests for documentation, admissions, and the names of relevant witnesses are submitted. The witnesses are then deposed. A deposition is when the lawyer sits down with a witness and grills them about the details of the case. Both depositions are videotaped, and the videotape is used at trial.
Conferences on Mediation and Settlement
The parties normally try to resolve the case at some stage during discovery or before trial. This typically takes the form of "mediation," which is a mechanism in which all sides of employment attorneys and their clients consult with a neutral, third-party mediator who supports the parties in finding an agreement. Typically, the mediator is a retired employment lawyer or judge. If it doesn't work, the judge will order all parties to attend a mandatory settlement session.
Trial & Appeal
On average, 95% of employment disputes resolve without going to trial. Regrettably, certain businesses fail to compromise. This is why it matters who your legal counsel is, and why specialized labor attorneys who have handled similar cases before are your best shot.
Find Pre-screened California Labor Lawyers Here.
You are entitled to compensation for medical costs, back pay, front salary, actual and future pain and suffering, and emotional distress if you have been discriminated against, wrongfully fired, threatened, or retaliated against at work.
Our California pre-screened employment lawyers know that a case involving employment can cost people not only their jobs and occupations but also their health and mental well-being, as well as their financial stability. The stakes are immense in these situations.
How Do I Get A Referral To An Employment Lawyer in California?
You can make an online request at any time. You'll be speaking with a fitting employment lawyer after a free online initial consultation.
Call the 1-661-310-7999 employee rights hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.