Although it is true that California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning an employer can let you go for any lawful reason, or no reason at all, there are many, many important exceptions to the so-called at-will rule.
Indeed, some might say that the exceptions swallow the rule. That is where the concept of “wrongful termination” enters the picture. For example, an exception to the at-will rule is that your employer can’t fire you for an illegal reason.
There are both federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against people because of their race, gender and other things they can’t change. Religious beliefs, nation of origin, race and in some places sexual orientation, as in California, are protected characteristics in this category.
Were You the Victim of Wrongful Termination?
Contact an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney at The Rubin Law Corporation to discuss your situation. Losing one’s job is usually a very upsetting and emotional experience. But remember that just because you were terminated, it isn’t necessarily illegal. For example, it is probably legal to fire an employee just because you don’t like his or her personality.
Steven M. Rubin represents employees exclusively, not employers. He has been involved in bringing a leading workplace wage and hour case before the California Supreme Court. As a Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney, he has successfully handled hundreds of severance negotiations, and regularly litigates cases into substantial cash award settlements for his clients, often early enough in the process so that the benefits are enjoyed without the uncertainty and anxiety that accompany years of trial and appellate litigation.
Above all, he has shown a special aptitude for creatively and effectively bringing employers to the table to engage in the early negotiation of disputes.
Wrongful and At-Will Termination in California
California recognizes that in general, all employment contracts are at-will terminable. However, there are exceptions to this by both state and federal statutes as well as violations of public policy. In order to establish a wrongful termination claim in California, the plaintiff must prove:
- The existence of an employer-employee relationship
- Plaintiff employee was terminated by employer (or other adverse employment action)
- The termination was a violation of public policy
- The termination legally caused plaintiff’s damages
- Damages exist
Wrongful Termination Claims
In California, a wrongful termination claim can be made if an employer, in firing an employee, violates public policy. Examples include:
- Firing an employee for reasons of discrimination based on race, gender, disability, ethnicity and so forth
- Firing an employee in violation of family medical leave laws such as FMLA or CFRA
- Firing an employee for protesting unsafe working conditions
- Firing an employee for reporting that other employees are not being paid overtime or other wages due
- Firing an employee who discusses wages with co-workers
- Firing an employee for reporting misappropriation of public funds
- Firing an employee who reports improper practices affecting the public at large: “Public” policy may be violated by retaliating against an employee for internal disclosure of “illegal, unethical or unsafe practices,” which affect the public at large, not merely the employer
- Firing an employee who reports unlawful or unethical practices internally to management (See Labor Code 1102.5)
- Refusing to sign covenant not to compete: Firing a worker for refusing to sign a non-competition agreement has been held to violate the fundamental public policy expressed in Bus. & Prof.C. § 16600
- Firing an employee for breaching a non-competition agreement with a former employer(violates public policy of favoring open competition and employee mobility)
- Firing an employee for refusing to sign a release document, releasing the employer from liability for future fraud and intentional acts
- Firing an employee for refusing to take a random drug test (this is split in case authority)
- Jury duty: Lab.C. § 230(a) The Labor Code prohibits discrimination or discharge based on an employee’s performing jury service (after reasonable notice to the employer)
- Testimony: The Labor Code prohibits discrimination or discharge based on an employee’s taking time off (after reasonable notice to the employer) to appear in court as a witness
- Domestic violence complaint: The Labor Code prohibits discrimination against a domestic violence victim who takes time off to seek judicial relief. Unless reasonable notice is given in advance, the employee must, within a reasonable time after the court appearance, provide the employer with certification (in the form of a police report, court order, documentation from medical professional, etc.).
- Moreover, the Labor Code prohibits employers of 25 or more persons from discriminating against domestic violence victims who take time off to seek medical attention, obtain services of a domestic violence program or psychological counseling, or participate in safety planning. The same notice or certification to the employer is required.
- Workplace safety complaint: The Labor Code specifically prohibits discrimination or discharge for complaining about unsafe work conditions or practices.
- Whistleblowing: The Labor Code prohibits retaliation against employees for disclosing an employer’s violation of state or federal regulations to a governmental agency
- Disclosing wages: The Labor Code prohibits disciplining or discharging an employee for disclosing the amount of his or her wages
- Disclosing working conditions: The Labor Code prohibits disciplining or discharging an employee for disclosing information about the employer’s working conditions. It has been conceded that this statute states a sufficient public policy on which to base a wrongful termination claim.
If you informed someone in management within the company, or an investigator within the company, or a regulatory authority or law enforcement outside the company that illegal acts were being committed by the company, and you were fired in retaliation, this will constitute wrongful termination. You had a right to protest the illegality, and probably should “blow the whistle” to stop the unlawful activities. If you refused to participate in unlawful conduct, and were terminated, you were wrongfully terminated. Finally, if you were fired in retaliation for attempting to organize the workforce for collective bargaining, the firing is illegal as well.
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More Practice Areas and Useful Articles
- Contract Law
- Wrongful Termination
- Wage and Hour
- Executive and Senior Managers
- Family Medical Leave Act
- Entertainment Industry Employment
- California Family Rights Act
- Healthcare Employment
- Sexual Harassment
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