Being laid off by an employer can be a financially burdening situation. There is a chance that legal action can be taken against your employer if wrongful termination occurred. The following article outlines different forms of wrongful termination. Here’s how to know if you have a case for wrongful termination in California.
Wrongful Termination Explained
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer violates state or federal law, or an employment contract, when terminating an employee. In a wrongful termination claim, a worker claims that they were fired for an illegal reason.
Most Common Forms of Wrongful Termination
1. Whistleblower Retaliation
Whistleblower retaliation happens when an employer terminates an employee for reporting their employer to a government agency for an illegal action. The primary protection provided to whistleblowers is Labor Code 1102.5 LC. This labor code prohibits employers from retaliating against (in this case wrongfully terminating) any employee who reported the employer to an investigatory supervisor or a government agency. Furthermore, an employer cannot terminate an employee who takes vacation time, medical leave, or maternity leave.
Specific Forms of Whistleblower Protections:
- Sarbanes Oxley Act: Created to protect investors from public companies committing accounting fraud. Employees of publicly traded companies that report employers for securities fraud are federally protected from retaliation by their employers.
- California False Claims Act (Qui Tam): If an employer is reported by an employee for committing fraud with government funds, the employee is protected by the state of California from retaliation.
An employee has a right to sue their employer for retaliatory wrongful termination due to whistleblowing.
2. “At-Will” employment exceptions
The majority of employees in California are “at-will employees”. At will employees are employees that can be terminated at any time for any reason.
- California employment law has created certain exceptions to “at-will” employment listed below.
- Misrepresentation or Fraud
- Wrongful termination that violates public policy (for example, firing an employee who refused to help the employer commit an illegal act).
- An employer violating an “implied contract” that protects the employee from being terminated without good cause.
The majority of employees that file lawsuits against their employers rely on implied contracts or public policy arguments.
An Implied contract is an agreement between an employee and employer that is understood by both parties without a written document.
3. Political Activism/Beliefs
An employee can sue an employer if they are terminated for protected political activities and speech. California labor code 1101 provides essential protections for employees’ political speech. California employees are also protected from employers influencing or forcing political activity or speech.
4. Protections Provided by the Fair Employment and Housing Act
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits workplace discrimination and harassment and protects employees from retaliation.
Employees are protected from retaliation in cases where they:
- File an official complaint about harassment or discrimination.
- Assist in an investigation about a discrimination or harassment claim.
5. California Warn Act
A common form of wrongful termination is if the employer violates California’s Worker Retraining and Notification Act. Employers are required to provide employees with a sixty-day notice when laying off fifty or more employees simultaneously. Employers are also required to provide a sixty-day notice of termination if they are closing or moving a facility.
Failure to provide a sixty-day notice means that an employer may be sued for wages and benefits. For example, if an employer posts a notice that their factory is closing in thirty days, an employee can sue for wages and benefits they would have earned in the remaining thirty days.
6. Constructive Discharge
A constructive discharge or termination occurs when an employer creates intolerable working conditions, forcing an employee to resign. Even though the employee resigned, the resignation was not voluntary, so it is considered a termination. For example, a constructive discharge occurs when an employer places unreasonable demands on an employee, creates hazardous working conditions, or ignores harassment in the workplace.
- An employee can sue for wrongful constructive termination if:
- The employer purposefully created an intolerable working environment forcing any reasonable person to resign.
- The employer was requesting the employee to engage in illegal acts.
Whistleblower and FEHA retaliation laws may apply in constructive discharge cases.
7. Contract Claim
A contract claim occurs when an employee and employer entered into a written contract that prevents termination for reasons listed within the contract. A clause commonly included in employment contracts is termination without good cause. If an employee is terminated in violation of the terms listed in the contract, an employee has a very strong case to bring against their employer.
Employment contracts can exist in both an oral and written form.
8. Personal Injury Claims
Personal injury claims arise if an employee was terminated due to injury sustained at the workplace. If an employee is terminated under a false accusation of theft, they may be able to sue for defamation. A case for defamation can be built if the false accusation results in loss of a promotion or an inability to obtain a new place of employment.
What should I do if my employer has been wrongfully terminating others?
Report this harassment to another supervisor or to human resources. If you are met with a lack of compliance, reporting these violations to the state of California may be necessary.
How do I deal with the financial stress of wrongful termination?
Filing for unemployment in the state of California while the legal process takes place may be in your best interest. This can be done through the EDD.
What should I do if my employer is harassing me following my termination due to a lawsuit?
Filing a restraining order may be in your best interest if the harassment does not cease.
If you or a loved one has a case for wrongful termination in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified California Wrongful Termination Attorney for your unique legal issue. We won’t charge you a dime unless you win your case!