Were You Fired Unfairly? What To Do After A Wrongful Termination.
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Employers fire workers daily. It may be due to a lack of work ethic, a lack of experience, or something else entirely. For the most part, firing an employee in California is legal. Both the employer and the employee can terminate the working relationship at any time and without warning in an "at-will" state. However, you have the right to file a wrongful termination lawsuit if your boss fires you for the wrong reasons—illegal reasons.
In California, wrongful termination occurs when an employer terminates an employee's employment agreement in breach of the employee's civil rights. A wrongful termination suit can be filed by an employee who was fired for unfair purposes, exercising their legal rights, or violating an employment contract. When an employer terminates an employee's employment agreement in breach of the employee's civil rights, this is known as wrongful termination.
Despite the fact that California is an "at-will" jurisdiction, which means that an employer or employee can be fired at any time and for any lawful reason, with or without cause, and with or without advance notice. Nonetheless, wrongful termination lawsuits arise in California, where state and federal statutes expressly bar employers from dismissing workers for a variety of illegal reasons. According to California termination rules, firing an employee for an illegal cause is wrongful termination.
Anti-Discrimination Laws in the United States and California
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Age and Discrimination Act (ADEA), the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the California Family Rights Act, and the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Family Act all include anti-discrimination provisions.
Both the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission manage discrimination complaints (EEOC).
Protected Characteristics that will be unlawful to discriminate against:
Retaliation and Harassment
Employers are prohibited from discriminating against or retaliating against employees who have exercised their legal rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Here's where you can learn more about FEHA. Retaliation may involve dismissing anyone for:
Reporting illegal activity
Making a workers' compensation claim
Making a health and safety complaint at work
Disputes over unpaid salaries or overtime
Violations of the Labor Code, such as failure to provide meal or rest breaks, should be recorded
Concerns about patient safety should be reported (health care workers)
Making a formal complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) mandates that employers with 50 or more employees provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a child, the placement of a child in the employee's family for adoption or foster care, the serious health condition of the employee's child, parent, or spouse, and the employee's own serious health condition. Learn more about California's paternity leave laws here.
Employees who are entitled to paid sick leave under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act can do so for the following reasons:
The employee's or a protected family member's underlying health condition is diagnosed, cared for, or treated.
Preventive treatment for the employee or a family member who is insured
Obtaining civil, medical, or social assistance for an employee who has been the victim of domestic abuse, sexual harassment, or stalking.
Employees are allowed to accumulate and use up to 24 hours (three days) of paid sick leave each year. Total accrual cannot exceed 48 hours (or six days) per year, including carryover of unused accumulated time.
Defining an "Employee"
It can be difficult to distinguish between who is an employee and who is a California independent contractor. However, the distinction is critical because only an employee may file a wrongful termination suit in California.
Fortunately, the California Labor Code and recent case law clearly define the distinctions between an employee and an independent contractor. In California, the terms "employee" and "independent contractor" are used interchangeably.
An employee usually works at the company's location, has fixed hours, conducts work that is part of the company's routine operations, receives company training and guidance, and is paid an hourly wage or salary. Furthermore, the corporation has control over the manner in which the work is completed.
Employees are entitled to a range of rights under federal and state law, including federal and state anti-discrimination legislation. These safeguards make it possible for an employee to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
An independent contractor, in contrast to an employee, is described in California as "any individual who provides service for a specified remuneration for a specified result, under the control of his principal only as to the result of his work and not as to the means by which such result is accomplished."
An independent contractor is when a worker is employed to do a particular job with a specific outcome and has complete control over the process. The California Supreme Court recently broadened the concept of "employee," making it more difficult for employers to argue that employees are independent contractors.
To prove that an employee is an independent contractor under the new standard, an employer must show that:
It has no influence on how a person conducts his or her job.
The employee performs a service that is not related to the employer's regular operations.
The employee is usually involved in a well-established industry, trade, or career that is unrelated to the employers.
Independent workers are not allowed to sue for wrongful termination.
The majority of California employees are "at-will"
California, like the majority of other states, is an "at-will" job territory, with the majority of its workers being "at-will." This ensures that employers are not required to provide reasons for terminating jobs, and workers are free to quit at any time.
If an employee is employed "at-will," the employer may fire them at any time, for any cause, or for no reason at all. When an employee is hired "for cause" rather than "at will," the employer must have a reasonable reason to fire them. If an employee fails to fulfill the job's duties, there is good cause in California.
Unlawful termination Isn't Justified by "At-Will" Employment.
Employers cannot discriminate against an "at-will" employee who asserts their civil rights by breaking anti-discrimination laws. Employees who are dismissed for exercising their legal rights, unfair motives, or in breach of an employment contract may have a claim for wrongful termination.
There are clearly specified cases where an employer might have unlawfully terminated jobs under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Termination for any of the following reasons would be considered illegal:
Discrimination based on age
Discrimination based on a criminal conviction
Discrimination based on disability
Discrimination based on ethnicity
Discrimination based on family responsibility
Discrimination based on gender or sexuality
A workplace that is hostile
Discrimination based on a medical condition
Discrimination based on military status
Discrimination based on national origin
Discrimination against pregnant women
Discrimination based on race
Discrimination based on religion
Discrimination based on gender stereotypes
Harassment of women
Discrimination based on sexual orientation
Discrimination against transgender people
Political party membership
Discretionary dismissal – hostile work atmosphere
Retaliation for concerns on occupational health and safety
Retaliation against anyone who complains about unpaid salaries or overtime.
Retaliation for filing a complaint about a breach of the Labor Code, such as the failure to offer meal or rest breaks.
Healthcare staff is being retaliated against for reporting patient safety issues.
Retaliation from reporting an OSHA violation.
Termination for any of the reasons mentioned above will be deemed illegal.
Despite the fact that most employment agreements are assumed to be "at-will," certain employment conditions are specifically specified in a contract. The contract will detail the terms of employment, including the length of employment and the right to be terminated "without cause."
This ensures that an employer cannot terminate an employee unless there is a valid reason for doing so. This is not the same as "at-will" jobs, which enables an employer to dismiss an employee for any legal reason, good or bad. Although having a contract will give the employee grounds to file a lawsuit, it does not guarantee that the employee will prevail.
If an employee has a written or implied contract with an employer and is terminated before the expiration of the agreed-upon period, they have the right to claim compensation for their damages based on a wrongful termination or contract violation. An employee is entitled to what they should have got under the terms of an employment contract if the employer breaches it.
Wrongful Termination in Other Forms
Not every case of termination is straightforward. Within the same assertion, there could be a case for both unjust and lawful termination. A mixed-motive termination is what this is called. In other instances, an employee may have quit prior to being fired because the working environment had become unbearable, and the employee had no choice but to leave. Constructive discharge is the term for this.
You may have a claim for wrongful termination in any of these situations.
Reasons for Termination
When an employer fires an employee for both illegal and legitimate reasons, this is known as a mixed-motive termination. The termination is wrongful when an illegal motive is a significant driving factor in the decision.
If an employer's decision to fire an employee was influenced by some illegal considerations, even if only in part, the employee can have a legitimate legal claim for damages.
The plaintiff must show that prejudice played a significant role in his or her termination. The employer then has the responsibility of proving that they terminated jobs for legal, non-discriminatory purposes.
The plaintiff cannot be paid damages, back pay, or a reinstatement order if the company may show that it would have made the same termination decision for legal reasons. The plaintiff may be entitled to declaratory or injunctive relief if it is necessary.
This is intended to discourage workers from engaging in illegal behavior, even though discrimination played only a minor role in the decision. A fair payment of attorney's fees and expenses may also be available to the plaintiff.
Constructive discharge occurs when an employer knowingly establishes unhealthy working conditions for an employee, leaving them with no choice but to leave, according to California employment law.
Conditions That Are Intolerable
An employee is shielded from working conditions that are unreasonably harsh in comparison to those of his or her coworkers. However, the employee is not guaranteed a stress-free working environment. Working conditions that are intolerable must be severe or part of a trend. Any fair employee will leave rather than work there because the working conditions are unbearable.
In California, an employee must show two things to prove constructive discharge:
Working conditions were particularly unbearable, and any rational employee would feel forced to resign.
The employer either tried to compel the employee to resign or was aware of the circumstances but did little to address them.
Employees who are constructively terminated can be entitled to file a wrongful termination lawsuit as if they were fired directly by the employer.
Here's How to Spot Constructive Discharge
Constructive discharge (or constructive termination or constructive dismissal) in California happens when an employer intentionally establishes harsh, intolerable working conditions for an employee for improper purposes. Unfortunately, so many California workers are in the uncomfortable situation of having to leave because their working conditions have become intolerable.
If the employee has no other option but to resign, he or she might have a claim for constructive discharge. You may have weighty grounds for wrongful firing under this theory, just as if you were fired outright.
Many workers employed under employment contracts, as well as at-will employees, are subject to constructive discharge or termination. If an employer acts without good cause to compel a contract employee to resign, that person may have a claim for constructive discharge under many of these agreements.
When is Quitting Caused by Constructive Discharge?
Your boss could have cut your hours or reduced your salary without cause. Employers can use mistreatment, coercion, abuse, bigotry, or retaliation to force you to leave.
That is something that no employee should have to put up with, and you might have a case. However, most workers who find themselves in that position would wonder:
Is it true that if I leave, I'll lose all of my legal rights?
Do I have to wait until I'm fired in order to take action?
California is an "at-will" employment state, so your employer can fire you at any time, with or without cause or notice. Similarly, at-will workers are free to leave their jobs at any time without explanation or notice. These general principles include exceptions, such as when the employer's actions were motivated by prejudice.
If employees are fired because of their age, ethnicity, gender, disability, or some other constitutionally protected feature, even an "at-will" employee can file a lawsuit for employment discrimination. Employees that are working under a contract or for a set period of time are often an exception and are subject to different laws.
When you leave your job on your own, though, you normally give up some privileges that you would have if you were fired:
Unemployment insurance can not be available to you.
You normally forfeit the right to sue your employer for wrongful termination.
Fortunately, leaving is often legally considered the same as being fired under California law. The legal theory of "constructive discharge" applies here. This means that a dismissal could not always be considered a bar to legal rights and remedies.
And if you quit, if your employer was attempting to force you to quit by creating intolerable working conditions for you by unlawful discriminatory actions (such as mistreatment based on your race, gender, age, disability, or other protected rights at work) or retaliatory actions because you asserted certain protected rights at work, you would have the same rights and wrongful termination remedies as an employee who was terminated for cause.
Because these cases are extremely complicated legally, particularly when it comes to the facts you must present, it is important to hire a California Employment Attorney. You may also benefit from some background information on wrongful terminations.
Constructive Discharge Examples
Since the burden of proof for arguing that a dismissal counts as a constructive discharge in California are reasonably high, it's critical to notice the signs that you may have such an argument after resigning.
Here are a few examples:
yelling at an employee on a regular basis
Disparaging or bullying a worker on a regular basis
Harassment and shaming
Responsibilities of the employee are reduced.
Changing changes and hours is a common occurrence.
Performance ratings that are unfair and irrational
Putting the employee in danger as a result of a job project or assignment
Transfer to a different department or division
It's important to note that none of these scenarios can result in a constructive discharge finding on their own. The decision is made on a case-by-case basis and is based on the facts of the case.
In addition, California courts have ruled that such actions do not warrant an argument if they are not followed by other facts, such as:
A reduction in wages, working hours, or benefits
Reduction in rank
Other workers are promoted
Mistreatment in a single episode
Determining what constitutes a "hostile work environment"
According to the Fair Employment and Housing Act of California, a workplace becomes hostile when it contains offensive conduct that is serious or widespread enough to produce an abusive work environment for one or more employees. Hostile activities can be based on gender or sexuality, but they can also include non-sexual abuse such as bullying or religious harassment.
Supervisors and non-supervisors, as well as non-employees such as independent contractors and even consumers and clients, may engage in hostile actions. However, it is the employer's responsibility to put an end to workplace violence and ensure that each employee arrives at work in a secure and pleasant environment.
Parties to Blame for Harsh Work Environments
It is the employer's duty to put an end to workplace hostility and ensure that every employee arrives at work in a secure and comfortable environment. California law protects employees from hostile workplace discrimination. Other people who aren't workers are also covered by the statute, including:
Applicants for jobs
Contractors who work on their own. (California Code Reg. 11019)
When workers or others covered by California law are subjected to hostile work environment attacks, who is to blame?
For starters, employers may be held responsible for hostile work conditions that their own workers build. If the bullying person was a boss, the employer might be held completely responsible for the hostile work atmosphere.
Employers may also be held liable if a non-supervisory employee creates a hostile work atmosphere. If the employee is not a boss, the employer is liable if the employer "knew or should have learned of the conduct and failed to take immediate and reasonable corrective action." (No. 2521a California Civil Jury Instructions)
Employers can also be held liable for hostile work conditions created by non-employees. An employer will be held liable for the actions of a non-employee if the following conditions are met:
The employer was aware or should have been aware that the non-actions employee's placed workers in danger of abuse.
The employer did not take prompt and effective preventative or corrective measures.
The employer had complete power over the right to take such action. (California Civil Jury Instructions No. 2528; California Government Code 12940(j))
Under this standard, an employee can have a harder time suing an employer if the hostile work atmosphere was triggered by the actions of a non-employee. Second, the person who took part in, aided in or facilitated the bullying behavior may be held liable to the employee for creating a hostile work atmosphere.
Conduct that creates a hostile work environment
Workers in California are granted certain job protections, or rights as employees, under California hostile work environment regulations. These regulations shield workers from being harassed in the workplace. There are two types of harassment that employees have a right to be free from in the workplace: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment.
Harassment is a general term that covers a wide range of offensive behavior. Harassment, according to California law, can include:
verbal communication (e.g., epithets, derogatory comments, or slurs)
Physique (e.g., assault or interference with the work or movement of a person)
Visualization (e.g., derogatory posters, cartoons, or drawings)
Sexuality (e.g., conditioning a benefit of employment on the exchange of sexual favors).
While sexual assault is illegal in California, harassment in a hostile work environment argument does not have to be sexual.
Workplaces that are hostile to employees are some examples of hostile work environments.
Workplace animosity can take several forms, but our Wrongful Termination Lawyers are familiar with a few of the more popular scenarios. Here are a few examples:
Your boss or coworker makes insensitive jokes or uses racial slurs in their communication with you.
Your boss or coworker expresses verbal hostility or frustration toward you by shouting, swearing, or using other similar methods.
Nonverbal hostility or rage is shown by your boss or coworker against you (such as slamming work onto your desk in an aggressive manner).
Because of your personal circumstances, thoughts, views, or job, your boss or coworker dismisses you.
Your personal effects are tampered with by your boss or coworker.
Your boss employs unequal tactics to keep you from progressing in the business.
Your boss or coworker follows you around, bothers you, or spies on you.
If you do not do anything that is not within your scope of duties, your boss or coworkers threaten you with termination, physical, mental, or psychological violence, or unjustified punishment.
Again, workplace hostility can take several forms, so if you think you are a victim, it is important that you speak with an Employment Attorney as soon as possible. A professional Wrongful Termination Lawyer is aware of all the warning signs of a hostile work atmosphere and can assist you in building your case, even though you are uncertain if you have one.
The same hostile or unwanted actions persist over time, which is a sure sign of organizational aggression. They've become so widespread that they're interfering with your work yet personal lives, and despite the fact that you brought the problem to HR's notice, little has been done to address it.
What Do You Do?
For an employee, being fired is a frightening and traumatic experience. It's possible to get caught up in the whirlwind of feelings and concerns that accompany the termination. Fortunately, there are procedures in place to help employees navigate the legal system and protect their rights.
If the employee believes the termination was illegal in some way, they should begin gathering any and all facts and documentation that will help them prove it. Documents, files, emails, text messages, video, eye witness accounts, and other evidence that can support a wrongful termination claim are critical at this point.
The dismissed employee should ask about the reasons for their dismissal, as well as who made the decision to fire them. They should also request a copy of their personnel file. Writing down the employee's account of the incidents and circumstances is also beneficial. This will help put the facts into perspective and will also serve as a memory aid if the case goes to trial.
This information would be needed when filing a wrongful termination claim or lawsuit.
Seek legal counsel.
If an employee is abused, discriminated against, or mistreated at work and believes that their actions will lead to their firing, they should always seek legal advice. If you've already been fired, you can seek legal counsel from a Wrongful Termination Lawyer right away.
Make a claim or file a lawsuit.
An employee may be required to file a claim with the proper governmental body, or they may be allowed to miss the claim and proceed to file a complaint, depending on the facts of the case. An Employment Attorney should be consulted in any case. It's also important to note that filing a wrongful termination lawsuit is subject to a statute of limitations, and adhering to this deadline is critical.
To file a wrongful termination suit in California, an employee must go through multiple measures.
STEP 1: Determine if Employee is "At-Will" or Not
The question of whether or not an employee is "at-will" is crucial in deciding whether or not a termination was unlawful. When does an employee become "at-will"? Jobs in California are assumed to be "at-will." This assumption assumes that whenever one of the following conditions is met, an employee is automatically listed as "at-will."
The job is only for a set period of time (e.g., for two months)
The parties decided on the grounds for the employer's termination of the employee.
The parties' actions indicate that they agree that the jobs will not be terminated unless there is a good reason.
Several factors influence whether the parties' behavior indicates that the employment was not "at-will."
The following factors will be considered by the court:
Policies, handbooks, or guidelines developed by the employer
The duration of the employee's employment with the company
The employer's words or behavior that imply that the job will be kept
There are many ways in which an employer's actions ensure that the job will be kept. The employee may keep their job by, for example, granting them promotions, increases, and bonuses without acknowledging their insufficient or bad results.
STEP 2: Establish that Wrongful Termination did Happen
When an employee's job may only be terminated "for cause," the termination is wrongful if the employer has no legitimate reason for firing the employee. Termination is also illegal if it is carried out in violation of public policy, such as when it is carried out in retaliation for whistleblowing. Employers are also prohibited from terminating employees due to abuse or prejudice.
Finally, the employer cannot establish a work atmosphere that is so unpleasant that the employee decides to leave. This form of dismissal is known as "constructive discharge."
STEP 3: Collect Evidence, Call an Employment Attorney
If the data is likely to be lost or damaged over time, the employee should begin collecting it as soon as possible. A prosecutor may also assist in the gathering of facts.
STEP 4: Decide Whether You Want to File A Complaint
Employees may be entitled to file a wrongful termination suit under federal law or California state law, as discussed below. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has details about how to file a case in the state. Under federal law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlines how to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
How long does it take to file a wrongful termination lawsuit?
It's impossible to say how long a wrongful termination case would take because each case has its own set of evidence. Furthermore, the length of the lawsuit is determined by whether the claim is filed with the state or with the federal government.
Discrimination under Federal Law
Before bringing a federal complaint, an employee must first file a petition with the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for workplace discrimination based on race, color, faith, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic details.
Since there are time limits, file the claim as soon as possible. The minimum is normally 180 days. A Notice of Right to Sue will be sent out after the claim is filed.
The lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of receiving this information. If the case is not brought within the time frame, the employee will be barred from pursuing their claim.
California Employment Discrimination
Employees may also file a state petition with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or file a case in state court.
To proceed in court, you must first file a complaint with the DFEH to obtain a right-to-sue notice. This notice helps you to begin the litigation process without having to wait for the DFEH to review your wrongful termination claim. When filing a case in state court for job discrimination, keep in mind the following:
The case will not be investigated by the DFEH.
It is recommended that you hire an Employment Attorney to assist you in filing the case.
The case must be filed within one year of the date of the right-to-sue notice.
Your case will not be filed with the EEOC by the DFEH.
Damages for Wrongful Termination
Losing your work can be devastating to you and your family. Losing wages and benefits, as well as emotional stress, is not anything to take lightly. An employee can be entitled to compensation in the form of compensatory damages, punitive damages, work reinstatement, and legal fees and expenses if wrongful termination is proven.
Outside of Court Settlement of a Wrongful Termination Claim
The majority of Wrongful Termination lawsuits are resolved without going to court. Some employers, on the other hand, are reluctant to settle out of court and would instead wait for their workers to file a complaint. A bigger payout would likely arise from settling outside of court, but legal fees, costs, and expenses would be lower than if the case went to trial.
Learn how to maximize the value of your wrongful termination settlement.
The amount of any settlement that the employee sees will be reduced by attorney and court costs.
The settlement decision-making process would be aided by a reasonable understanding of the gross loss of income and compensation (from the date of the wrongful termination) as well as the non-economic damages incurred by the termination.
What Is the Value of a Wrongful Termination Case?
The short answer is that it is dependent on a number of variables. Every case's damages are determined by the legal grounds for the wrongful termination as well as the facts of the case.
Winning a case normally entails compensatory damages, such as lost earnings, lost benefits, and, in some cases, emotional distress/loss of professional integrity damages. Punitive damages are likely to be paid if the case is focused on prejudice. The circumstances in each case will determine if reinstatement is appropriate, though this is uncommon.
If the employee prevails in court, the employer may be responsible for the employee's legal costs.
A plaintiff can be paid compensatory damages in order to "make him whole again." Back pay and the expense of any benefits that the employer may have provided to the terminated employee (such as healthcare) are included in lost wages and benefits.
This estimate begins on the termination day. Future missed wages will be awarded in cases where reinstatement is not an option. Future unpaid wages are calculated from the date of the court's decision and continue for as long as the employee's work is expected to continue.
Mitigation of Damages
An ex-employee has a legal duty to minimize their losses. This means they have a duty and try to mitigate the costs by looking for new work in order to compensate for some of the financial losses incurred as a result of the termination. When determining compensatory damages, a judge will take this into account.
And if the employee did not locate or accept a new position, the court would consider how much money they might have made if they had.
Non-economic damages are also called compensatory damages, but they cover subjective injuries without a monetary value. Emotional distress and loss of professional integrity are the most common forms of non-economic damages in wrongful termination cases.
To be paid non-economic damages, an employee must show that their emotional or professional injury was caused by the wrongful firing, not by any incident in their life.
Punitive damages are rarely included in out-of-court settlements. Punitive damages, unlike compensatory damages, are based on the defendant's reprehensibility of actions and conduct rather than the plaintiff's losses. These awards are in addition to the other damages awarded and are intended to punish the defendant.
While punitive damages are limited in certain types of legal claims, awards of punitive damages result in considerably higher average award amounts for wrongful termination victims.
If an employee wins their case, he or she can be reinstated. Because of the animosity between the parties, this is normally counterproductive in wrongful termination litigation. In this situation, front pay would be awarded, which is the amount of money the employee would have earned if he or she had not found a new job. This will be factored into the total amount of compensatory damages.
When a complainant is restored, they would be given the same amount of seniority they would have had if the Wrongful Termination had not occurred, as well as back pay, interest on the back pay, compensation for discrimination-related damages, and possibly punitive damages.
In addition, the employer would be responsible for paying legal expenses and fair attorney's fees.
If the employee prevails in court, the employer is normally responsible for all fair legal fees, charges, and expenditures incurred by the employee.
Find A Wrongful Termination Lawyer in California
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