‘At-will’ employment arrangements cover numerous employees in California. This type of agreement indicates that an employer can terminate one’s employment without any appropriate reason. But there are instances when employee dismissal can be considered illegal. Wrongful termination occurs when an employer dismisses an employee from their job unlawfully. It can also take place when the employer breaches company policy upon the worker’s termination.
Various factors constitute the majority of wrongful termination cases, such as employee discrimination and retaliation. But aside from these aspects, many other possible scenarios can be regarded as wrongful termination. Thus, you should be aware of these reasons to protect yourself from this type of situation.
Numerous employment laws protect employees from wrongful terminations. Federal laws, for example, protect workers from termination or discrimination based on the following factors:
- National origin;
- Race; and
There are also some states and areas that forbid employers from discriminating against their employees due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Moreover, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) gives protection to workers from discrimination based on their medical history. If an employee is either vulnerable to a particular ailment or has a relative afflicted by illness, their employer cannot terminate their employment for these reasons.
The law deems wrongful termination due to discrimination as unlawful, even if any of the elements mentioned above relatively influenced the act. Thus, the terminated employee can file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the employer for this reason. Employers can be investigated, fined, punished, and be subjected to civil action if they violate anti-discrimination rulings in dismissing their employees.
Some examples of discrimination-based wrongful termination may include:
- An employer firing an older worker to accommodate a younger one, which is a form of age discrimination;
- An employer terminating a female employee due to their discomfort in working with one;
- A disabled worker asking their employer for reasonable accommodation, thus prompting the latter to dismiss them from their job; or
- An employer disallowing an employee from having reasonable accommodation for their religious practices or beliefs.
Aside from prohibiting the wrongful discharge of employees due to their age, gender, race, or religion, federal and state laws forbid harassment based on these factors. An employer’s highly offensive remarks, as well as widespread sexual harassment in the workplace, can create a hostile work environment for employees. This type of working condition can make them feel uneasy or scared to work in their office.
Employees can file a harassment-based wrongful termination lawsuit against their employer if the latter has used any of the following situations to fire them:
- If the employer made derogatory or degrading statements about an employee’s age, handicap, gender, medical history, or any other sensitive personal information;
- If the employer made such remarks on a regular basis or in front of other workers;
- If the employer made unwanted sexual advances on an employee, asked them for sexual favors, or tried to establish romantic or sexual relations; or
- If the employer’s relationship with the employee led to the latter’s dismissal or unfavorable treatment at work.
Employers are not allowed to terminate or inflict punishment on their workers for taking part in protected practices, which may involve the following:
- Informing their company or an enforcement agency of any unlawful activity such as discrimination or safety violations; and
- Taking part in any inquiry into potentially illegal actions.
These types of wrongful termination cases generally pertain to instances of whistleblowing. However, some retaliation cases do not include employees who have disclosed their employer’s illegal activities or behavior to their company or law enforcement through a legal complaint or inquiry.
Wrongful termination based on employer retaliation may include the following examples:
- An employer fires a worker for answering questions while the former is investigated for discrimination, harassment, or safety violation claims;
- An employer dismisses an employee for being a witness in an inquiry, complaint, or legal case for discrimination, harassment, or safety violation allegations;
- An employer fires a worker for informing a manager or supervisor of alleged discrimination, harassment, or safety breaches;
- An employer dismisses an employee for fulfilling their voting rights or jury duty; or
- An employer terminates a worker for defying their sexual advances or protecting co-workers from sexual harassment through intervention.
Breach of Contract
Employee dismissals that breach employment contracts may also constitute wrongful termination. Thus, it may be easier for workers to prove and win these types of cases as they are relatively simple compared to discrimination and retaliation allegations. The latter usually depends on circumstantial evidence.
The following circumstances are examples of possible wrongful termination due to contract violations:
- If a worker is under a collective bargaining agreement;
- If a worker and their employer have signed an employment contract;
- If the employer has created a written contract through company policy, which is structured into an employee handbook or manual;
- If the employer sent the worker a letter that was intended to be an employment agreement for them; or
- If the employer created and signed a written agreement. In this case, it is not necessary for the worker to sign such a contract if the company does not request their signature.
Other Examples of Wrongful Termination
In addition to the examples above, employees can also experience wrongful termination for the following reasons:
- Employer retaliation for filing a compensation claim;
- Wrongful termination in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
- Wage and hour disputes; or
- Constructive dismissal.
For employer retaliation due to benefit claims, you need to prove that your employer terminated you because you tried to request for compensation or you gained benefits as a result of that claim. Wrongful termination cases that breach FMLA rulings require you to prove that your dismissal was due to childbirth or medical care, while cases involving wage disputes will allow you to present proof that you were terminated because of your attempt to push for unpaid wages or other benefits. Lastly, constructive dismissal takes place when your employer compels you to agree to a revision in your contract which was made without your permission or to otherwise leave your job if you refuse to do so.
Seek Expert Legal Advice for Wrongful Termination Cases
A claim for wrongful termination can entitle you to monetary damages or arrangements for a proper severance package. However, it is not wise to negotiate your claims on your own. Doing this is ill-advised because your former employer can hire defense lawyers who can help them evade legal liability. Thus, you need to seek expert legal advice and assistance from a competent wrongful termination lawyer.
For over two decades, Mesriani Law Group has represented numerous employees in California who have filed employment and labor law-related claims against their former employers. Our seasoned wrongful termination lawyers will not hesitate to help you prepare a substantial lawsuit against your employer so you can get the compensation that you deserve.