Updated: Mar 4
A guide for California employees who have been wrongfully terminated in 2020
Employees who are wrongfully terminated in violation of an employment agreement due to any type of discrimination or for exercising their employee rights may be able to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
In California, most employees work at will, which suggests they could be fired at any time and for any reason. However, California has created a variety of illegal reasons for employment termination, which are off-limits for employers.
If you've got a contract that promises you continued employment for a particular length of your time that limits your employer's ability to terminate your employment (for example, just for "good cause" or other specific reasons), your employer must honor the employment contract. If, for some reason, your employer still fires you in violation of the terms of the contract, you'll have a strong claim against your employer for wrongful termination.
An employment agreement could be established by a written or oral agreement. An employment agreement can also be implied by certain actions or statements by your employer -- for instance, a statement in an employee handbook that says employees are going to be fired just for the cause. If your employer violated the terms of the contract in any way, you'd sue for wages, benefits, and anything you ought to have received. You'll also be able to use the contract as leverage to barter a severance package together with your employer.
Employers cannot fire an employee from a protected group. In California, these groups include race, color, national origin, religion, sex, maternity, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, identity, citizenship status, legal status, AIDS/HIV status, medical condition, political affiliation, or any other activities such as military or veteran status, or status as a victim of violence, stalking, or assault.
If you're able to produce substantial and documented proof that you were fired from your job because you are identified as being part of one of these protected groups, you'll have a very strong wrongful termination claim against your employer. Your employer will be forced to compensate you for your lost wages, benefits, and also be forced to pay your attorneys' fees, court costs, and damages for your emotional distress.
An employer might not fire an employee for exercising, or trying to enforce, their employment rights. For instance, you cannot be terminated for filing a claim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, for requesting or taking family and medical leave, being pregnant, taking time off from work to serve as a jury, for filing a workers' compensation injury claim, or simply for addressing illegal wage and hour practices.
California is probably the state that gives the most protections for workers, which implies there are many potential bases for retaliation claims. For example, if you were terminated right after filing a complaint or exercising a right granted by law, you'll have a claim against your employer.
The damages available for retaliation claims depend upon which law you were exercising and the specifics around your termination. As stated above, you'll be able to collect all your lost wages, benefits, and have your employer pay for your legal fees and costs.
Violation of Public Policy
Employees might not be fired for exercising a right, refusing to commit an illegal act, or complaining about workplace safety of illegal activities. Public policy claims are almost like, but slightly different from retaliation claims. A retaliation claim is based on a selected legal provision in California labor law that prohibits companies from firing employees for exercising that right or filing a complaint about being denied that right.
A public policy claim, on the opposite hand, doesn't need to be supported a specific labor law or maybe a selected statute. For example, an employee at a corporation that manufactures machine parts is fired for filing a complaint with the federal or local government, alleging that the company is illegally using after-market parts in its operations.
In this case, the worker would have a wrongful termination claim; the law is very clear and states that an employer might not fire an employee for taking this particular action. The basic principle is that no employee should be terminated simply for exercising a right, filing a claim, or refusing to participate in illegal or unethical behavior.
Wrongful termination in violation of public policy may be a sort of personal injury (tort) claim, which suggests a successful employee can collect not only lost wages and benefits but also damages for emotional distress and exemplary damages (where an employer's actions are particularly bad).
Other California Wrongful Termination Claims
An employee who was illegally terminated after being sexually harassed by a manager may file a claim for assault or battery. Or, an employee who is wrongfully accused of stealing may also file a claim for defamation if the employer spreads that false information maliciously, during a way that harms the employee's chances of getting another job.
Also, if your employer made a lot of promises so that you complete certain tasks, without meaning to fulfill those promises, you would possibly have a fraud claim as well. For any of those claims, you'll ask the court to award lost wages and benefits, emotional distress damages, and exemplary damages.
Damages for Lost Wages and Benefits After Being Wrongfully Terminated
The total value (adjusted for inflation) of your salary and, therefore, the value of any employee benefits (such as medical insurance) that an employee-plaintiff would have earned from their employer, from the date the employee was wrongfully terminated up until the date of the court verdict.
The total value (adjusted for inflation, of course) of your salary and, therefore, the value of any other employee benefits that the employee-plaintiff would have received from the employer, ranging from the date of the court's decision moving forward for as long as his/her job would reasonably are expected to continue (i.e., future lost wages);
You'll also be awarded the value of the other contract and damages caused by the defendant/employer's behavior.
Future lost wages and benefits–estimated on how long an employee would have kept working for the company if s/he had not been wrongfully terminated. To calculate this amount, it's taken into consideration the following two elements:
The employee's age, past work performance/reviews and the employee's intent regarding his/her employment; and
The odds that the company would continue the same operations that included the employee's position.
Benefits of settling out of court VS going to trial
While the typical settlement for wrongful termination cases in California is around $40,000, the typical settlement of a court verdict in a California wrongful termination cases is slightly larger, around $45,000 (but keep in mind that legal fees for a trial will be larger too).
The value of every wrongful termination case varies from case to case and depends on whether you're legally represented by an employment lawyer or not.
How much is a wrongful termination settlement worth in California
The value of a California wrongful termination settlement also depends on:
The employer some employers hesitate to settle out of court and prefer to wait until the employee proceeds in filing a lawsuit in court.
Some employers are less financially stable than others, which is why their ability to pay could also be very limited.
Punitive damages: When exemplary damages are available (for example, if your case is predicated on disability discrimination), the worth of your case is going to be significantly bigger. Age discrimination, for instance, prohibits recovery of exemplary damages.
Attorney and court fees: these will cover all attorney's and court fees.
Back pay: the quantity of cash you'd been paid had you not been wrongfully terminated, ranging from the date you were fired.
Front pay: the quantity of cash you'd have made until finding a replacement job (available in cases when the worker cannot be rehired in the same position).
Compensatory damages. Out-of-pocket expenses and other damages caused by discrimination or harassment to which you were exposed.
NOTE: Federal laws within the U.S. limit the quantity of punitive and actual damages in wrongful termination cases. They can't exceed $50,000 – $300,000, counting on the dimensions of your employer's business and other factors.
How to find a California wrongful termination lawyer
If you were wrongfully terminated, you must speak to an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible. As you'll see, there are many potential legal theories on which you would possibly have a lawsuit.
An employment lawyer can assist you in sifting through the facts, determine your strongest claims, and take steps to protect your legal rights. In some cases, you need to take legal action relatively quickly to secure your right to sue.
An employment lawyer can file a lawsuit, assist you in negotiating the maximum compensation possible, benefits, severance package, and guide you on different ways to resolve your wrongful termination claim.
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