Under most circumstances, both an employer and an employee are free to end the working relationship at will. That means that the employee can quit whenever and for whatever reason he or she chooses. Similarly, the employer can fire a worker for nearly any reason—or, for no reason at all.
However, both California and federal law place some restrictions on an employer’s freedom to terminate an employee. These fall into four general categories:
- Discriminatory termination based on membership in or association with a protected class
- Retaliatory discharge in response to a protected action by the worker, such as filing certain types of complaints
- Tortious wrongful termination, which is termination in violation of public policy
- Breach of an employment contract or the employer’s own policies and procedures
Types of Wrongful Termination
Each of the limitations on termination discussed above arises under a specific statute or principle of law. For example:
Both California and federal law prohibit employers from terminating workers on the basis of membership in or association with a protected class. The key statutes protecting against workplace discrimination include:
- Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex
- The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which prohibits discrimination of workers and applicants aged 40 and older
- The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which protects workers and applicants covered by these and other federal statutes, and adds classifications not protected under federal law
The FEHA prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of:
- National Origin
- Physical Disability
- Mental Disability
- Medical Condition
- Genetic Information
- Marital Status
- Gender, Gender Identity, or Gender Expression
- Sexual Orientation
- Military or Veteran Status
If you believe that you have been terminated based on one of the characteristics listed above, an experienced California wrongful termination attorney can be your best resource. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more about your rights after a discriminatory termination.
Both the California legislature and the federal government understand that the fear of retaliatory action by an employer can prevent employees from reporting unlawful behavior in the workplace. When employees are afraid to step forward, everyone suffers. The employee facing discrimination is helpless to protect himself or herself. The employee witnessing safety violations may not report those violations, leaving other workers—and, perhaps, the public—at risk.
For example, the California Labor Code protects employees who file or threaten to file claims or complaints with the Labor Commissioner, or who institute or cooperate with any proceeding relating to rights under the jurisdiction of the Labor Commissioner. Federal law provides similar but more limited protections.
TERMINATION IN VIOLATION OF PUBLIC POLICY
California law creates a cause of action known as “Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy.” This cause of action provides a remedy for any employee who was discharged for reasons that go against an established public policy. For example, an employee who is terminated for reporting ongoing violations of worker safety regulations might have a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, since public policy supports the reporting and remedying of dangerous conditions in the workplace.
FIRST STEPS FOR EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE BEEN WRONGFULLY TERMINATED
If you feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you will want to get knowledgeable guidance right away. As soon as you are terminated or threatened with termination:
- Document exactly what occurred, with date, time and people present
- Make note of any other witnesses who may have relevant information
- Carefully limit what you say in response to notice of termination
- Do not allow your employer to rush you into signing anything without consulting an attorney
Certain types of wrongful termination claims must first be submitted to a government agency for review, and the deadlines for submission of such claims can be much tighter than the timeline for a civil lawsuit. Therefore, it is essential that you educate yourself about your rights and options as soon as possible.
Take the first step toward protecting your rights today—just call (818) 914-3433 to schedule your free consultation.