Wrongful termination occurs when an employment relationship is ended by an employer in violation of the employee’s legal rights.
In California, wrongful termination claims can arise when an employer violates a federal or state statute, the worker’s employment contract, general principles of public policy, or some other aspect of the law.
At Will Employees
The majority of employees in California are considered to be “at-will” employees.
This means the employees are free to end the employment relationship at any time they want and likewise the employers are free to fire them at any time for any legal reason, or even without any reason. Employment is presumed to be at-will, in case there is no specific contractual relationship between the employee and employer which bounds the employer from firing the employee.
Not all employees are considered at-will and some of them have contracts which limit the employer’s ability to fire them without a reason.
For example, when the employee is hired for a specific period of time, but the contract doesn’t specify the circumstances under which the employment can be terminated, he can only be fired under the following circumstances:
- Employee intentionally breached his employment duties
- Employee is habitually negligently performing his duties
- Employee is incapable to perform his duties for some reason.
These types of employment contracts can be entered into in writing or verbally, but it must be specified that the agreement is for a set period of time.
Exceptions to At-Will Employment in California
Exceptions to “at-will” employment give to allow the employees to sue their employers for wrongful termination.
- Breaches of existing employment contract
- Retaliatory discharge
- Sexual harassment
- Fraud or misrepresentation
- Firing after inducement
- Implied contracts
Employer Can’t Fire an Employee for Unlawful Reasons
Even though employers can fire at-will employee for seemingly arbitrary reasons, they are still prohibited from terminating employees for illegal reasons.
According to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate in employment decisions on the basis of the following factors:
- Employee’s mental or physical disability
- Employee’s religion or religious practices
- Employee’s race
- Employee’s pregnancy
- Employee’s gender
- Employee’s age
- Employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity
- Employee’s political affiliation
- Employee’s national origin
In case the decision to terminate the employee was motivated by any of the above-mentioned reasons, the termination is unlawful under the law. Employees that have become the victims of wrongful termination have the right to file a lawsuit against their former employers and seek monetary damages.
Steps the Former Employee Must Undertake in Case of the Wrongful Termination
- Document everything
- Review the employment contract
- Contact a lawyer
- File a claim or lawsuit
Damages the Employee Can Recover
According to the law, wronged employees can recover:
- Economic damages, such as loss of past and future wages and benefits.
- Emotional damages
- Punitive damages in case the employer’s conduct was particularly malicious or reprehensible