Wrongful Termination is All Too Common in California – Learn How an Employment Law Attorney Can Help You
A wrongful termination case in California is a legal action in which a worker alleges he or she was dismissed or laid off for reasons that were not lawful. This usually refers to a breach of federal or state law, as well as public policy.
Termination for whistleblower activities, termination for exercising rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act or for protected political activities, termination for filing a workers compensation claim or reporting a work injury, termination for exercising rights under California employ (in cases involving mass layoffs) are all examples of unlawful termination.
The types of damages a worker can receive in a wrongful dismissal claim in California vary. However, they will almost certainly contain one or more of the following types of wrongful termination damages:
- Lost earnings and benefits
- Back pay and wages
- Compensation for emotional anguish and pain and suffering
- Attorney’s costs
Our California labor and employment attorneys are here for you if you have been wrongfully terminated. Call DLC Law now at (626) 285-8815 for a consultation.
Wrongful termination for breach of contract in California
If you aren’t an at-will employee, it’s probably because your employment contract specifies that you can only be fired under particular circumstances, such as “for good reason.” If you have such an agreement, your employer would be committing wrongful termination if you were fired for a cause not specified in the agreement.
If your agreement specifies that you will only be fired for “good cause,” your employer’s stated reason for firing you must match the agreement’s definition of “good cause.” Similarly, if your employer claims your termination was due to the agreement, but the claimed reason is actually a subterfuge for some other unlawful cause, it would be a wrongful termination.
Even if you don’t have a formal agreement with your employer, a court may find that you have an oral employment agreement or an inferred employment contract. If your business has a written policy indicating that it only dismisses employees “for good reason,” an implied contract may be discovered.
Breach of the good faith and fair dealing covenant
If your company terminates you in an egregiously unfair manner, you may be able to sue for wrongful termination on the grounds that your employer breached their “covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” Both parties are bound by an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” in every transaction.
This essentially means that the parties to any agreement are presumed to pledge not to do anything unfair or in bad faith to deprive the other party of the arrangement’s advantages. In the context of an employment relationship, a California employer has a fundamental responsibility to collaborate with its employee in order for the employee to complete his or her obligations.
Lies, evasions, purposeful inactivity, lack of communication, and other types of interference or obstruction are all possible breaches of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and might result in a wrongful termination claim in California in certain situations.
Retaliation for sexual harassment complaints
Sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace. It is seen as a type of unlawful discrimination. Under California law, your employer has an affirmative obligation to ensure a sexual harassment-free workplace.
As a result, it is illegal for your employer to dismiss you or otherwise retaliate against you for reporting or complaining about sexual harassment (whether directed at you or someone else), or for testifying in or initiating a sexual harassment inquiry or other process.
Retaliation for family leave
You cannot be lawfully fired for taking or inquiring about family medical leave. Employees in California are protected from retaliation by their employers if they use earned sick time for the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health problem, or for preventative care for themselves or a family member.
In reality, if you request paid sick leave and are fired within 30 days of making that request, it is considered to be wrongful termination, and your employer has the burden of proving that the cause for your termination was something other than your request for or use of sick leave.
Employers cannot terminate you for taking family or medical leave as provided by the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act. If you work for an employer covered by one of these statutes, you have the right to take up to twelve weeks off for a serious health condition you or a family member has.
If you are fired in California while on FMLA leave or within 90 days of returning from FMLA leave, the law presumes that you were fired for cause, and the burden of proof shifts to your employer to establish that you were not fired for that reason.
Retaliation against whistleblowers
Your employer cannot fire you for disclosing the employer’s infractions of local, state, or federal laws, rules, or regulations as “whistleblowing.” You cannot be fired by your employer for reporting dangerous working circumstances.
Retaliation for reporting wage and hour law violations in California
Employers in California are prohibited from firing or retaliating against you if you report unpaid wages, overtime pay, and/or unpaid meal and rest break breaches, or file a claim with the Department of Industrial Relations for unpaid wages or for exercising any rights guaranteed by the California Labor Code, whether on your own behalf or for other employees.
Discrimination against pregnant women
In California, pregnancy-related discrimination is defined as being fired because you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or coping with pregnancy-related medical concerns or consequences after giving birth.
Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, this is an illegal termination. If you request pregnancy-related employment accommodations, such as leave, and are rejected or fired as a result, this is also considered unlawful pregnancy discrimination.
Wrongful termination in California due to discrimination
Employers in California are banned from discriminating against workers based on certain personal traits. A “protected class” is defined as a group of people who share such qualities. California’s protected classes include:
- National origin
- Age (if over 40)
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- AIDS/HIV positive status
- Medical condition
- Political activities or affiliations
- Military or veteran status
- Victims of domestic violence, assault or stalking
- Citizenship status
It is considered unjust termination if you are fired for one of these reasons. Depending on your city’s regulations, there may be more protected classifications. In San Francisco, for example, height and weight are also protected groups.
Wrongful termination in California for violation of public policy
There are many other more specific situations in which firing can be unlawful. This includes:
- Making hazardous working conditions public
- Taking a break from work to serve on a jury
- An employee’s legitimate behavior outside of work hours and away from the workplace
- When an employee has been a victim of certain crimes, taking time off from work for activities relating to victim’s rights is permissible
- Obtaining a lactation accommodation or expressing breast milk at the workplace.
If you feel that you have been wrongfully terminated, we hope you will contact DLC Law at (626) 285-8815 for a consultation.