Employee Termination Laws in California

Author: Nicki Malekadeli
Posted on: September 26, 2019

Termination is a common occurrence that can happen to anyone. While some cases of termination are justified on the grounds of poor performance and unfortunate company downsizing, there are instances when laying someone off can be considered unlawful or illegal.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination or unfair dismissal is when an employee is laid off by his or her employer without an acceptable cause. Its legal definition specifically states that a worker is wrongfully terminated if he or she is fired for illegal reasons, including but not limited to, discrimination and breaches of their employment contract. An employer is also liable for a wrongful termination lawsuit if he or she creates an intolerable work environment that leaves an employee no other option but to resign from work.

Wrongful Termination Laws in California

To protect employees from instances of wrongful discharge, various laws were enacted to prohibit employers from laying off employees without a lawfully accepted reason as well as apprehend those who continue to terminate their employees under questionable and unlawful circumstances. Below are some of the employment laws related to wrongful dismissal and how they uphold various employee rights:

Limitations of At-Will Employment

The state of California presumes employment “at-will,” which is also the most common form of employment recognized by law. The general rule states that an “at-will” employee may be dismissed at any time and for any reason deemed fit by their supervisor. Section 2922 of the California Labor Code formally stipulates that employment may be terminated at will in the absence of a specified term. However, California Labor Laws also state a handful of exceptions to this arrangement to protect the working class and prevent employers from exploiting their workers.

Under the state’s labor code, it is illegal to terminate an employee if there is an implied contract stating that dismissal would not happen without good cause. An implied contract means that such an agreement need not be formally written and signed by both parties to be followed. Instead, it may come in the form of an oral agreement or by issuing a company handbook that has a comprehensive list of acceptable reasons for termination. 

While convenient, implied agreements have a disclaimer when used as an argument in court. A complainant who files a case on the grounds of the violation of an implied contract is less likely to be taken seriously unless an oral exchange actually took place or a copy of the handbook is presented.

Whistleblower Protection

Whistleblowers are people who inform the authorities of illicit activities happening within the company. Usually, they come out to complain about unequal pay, sexual harassment, and other types of misconduct or illegal acts. Whistleblowers may engage in internal or external whistleblowing, wherein the former takes place when an employee reports an incident to a governing body inside the organization while the latter instead turns to law enforcement or the media. Because they play a significant role in detecting crime and fraud, whistleblowers are protected by federal and state laws.

Section 15(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) makes it illegal to terminate employees in retaliation for filing a complaint. Other acts of workplace retaliation are also prohibited by the FLSA. Likewise, Section 1102.5 of the Labor Code safeguards workers from reprisal should they report proven or suspected violations of the law.

More specific whistleblower protection laws that are practiced in California include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. It is a federal law designed to grant employees of publicly-traded companies the right to sue for wrongful termination in case they take action on suspected securities fraud. Meanwhile, the “qui tam” section of the California False Claims Act gives an employee the power to sue on behalf of the state government if his of her employer has committed embezzlement. 

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act is the primary state law that forbids all acts of workplace discrimination and harassment. The FEHA strongly condemns employers who choose to discriminate employees based on the following characteristics:

  • Race or color
  • National origin or ancestry
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Medical conditions
  • Sex and sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Marital status

People who violate the provisions stated in the act open themselves up to workplace discrimination lawsuits and may have to pay for punitive damages. 

Constructive Discharge Laws

California’s constructive discharge laws allow employees to file a claim against a company even if they weren’t technically fired from their position. Constructive discharge or constructive dismissal refers to cases wherein an employer knowingly and purposefully propagated an inconducive work environment so that a specific employee has no other choice but to quit his or her job. 

When a complaint is filed, the state investigates the workplace conditions of the pursuant to prove that his or her resignation was out of coercion rather than a voluntary act or out of good faith. Such conditions have to be sufficiently insufferable and challenging to overcome that an average team member could no longer accomplish previously manageable tasks.

Seek the Help of a Professional Wrongful Termination Lawyer

Losing a job can destabilize one’s career path and financial security. It deals a heavy toll on a victim’s mental health and overall quality of life, especially when it happens to someone who is either unprepared or without contingencies. To prevail in a wrongful termination lawsuit, you must be guided with the expertise of a seasoned wrongful termination attorney. Doing so is at your best interest since it ensures you get the proper compensation and justice you deserve from an illicit act by your employer.

Mesriani Law Group (MLG) houses the best labor and employment attorneys in Los Angeles to give you the quality service you deserve. Contact our law firm today to avail of a free consultation for legal advice and have one of our brilliant lawyers represent you in court at a No Win No Fee Policy.