California follows the employment at-will doctrine, which states that employers have the right to fire employees for any reason. However, there are cases where an employee can be illegally fired, which is known as a wrongful termination. It’s important to understand what makes a firing illegal so you know when you should take action against your employer. Here are five examples of wrongful termination:
Example #1: The Termination Violates Your Employment Contract
Some employees sign an employment contract before they begin working for a company. Both the employer and the employee are legally bound by the terms of this contract. So, if your contract states that you are to remain employed with a company for a period of six months, the employer cannot fire you after three months. But, be sure that you carefully read the entire employment contract to ensure the employer does not have the right to fire you. Employment contacts typically state that the employee can be terminated for “good cause.” The meaning of the term “good cause” is open to interpretation. But, employers can typically argue that poor job performance, excessive tardiness or absences from work, refusing to follow instructions, or threatening other workers is good cause to terminate an employee.
Breaching an employment contract is a form of wrongful termination—and it’s much more common than you may think. If you find yourself in this situation, an employment lawyer may be able to help you recover the income that you lost as a result of the breach of contract.
Example #2: You Were Fired For Taking Time Off to Serve On A Jury
The law states that one exception to the employment at-will doctrine is a wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Simply put, this means an employer cannot fire an employee for refusing to break the law, fulfilling a legal obligation, exercising his legal rights, or reporting illegal activities.
Individuals are legally obligated to serve on jury duty if they have been selected to do so. Therefore, an employee that must take time off of work in order to fulfill his legal obligation of serving on a jury cannot be fired. Firing an employee that is serving on a jury would be a wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
Example #3: You Were Terminated Because You Filed A Complaint With the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) investigates complaints related to discrimination and harassment in the workplace. For example, if you feel that you have been sexually harassed, you should file a claim with the DFEH so they can determine if your employer violated the law. Everyone has the right to protect his or her rights in the workplace by filing a formal complaint with the DFEH. But unfortunately, some employers become angry when they learn that one of their employees has filed a claim. Instead of cooperating with the investigation and respecting the employee’s decision, they fire the employee to retaliate against him or her.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees that file a claim with the DFEH. They are also not allowed to retaliate against anyone that has participated in an investigation conducted by the DFEH. For example, if you are interviewed by a DFEH representative who is investigating a sexual harassment claim that was filed by one of your co-workers, you cannot be fired by your employer. If this happens to you, seek legal representation from an attorney so you can file a wrongful termination claim.
Example #4: Your Employer Fired You Because of Your Race
Employers in the state of California are not allowed to fire someone based on certain characteristics, including:
- National Origin
- Genetic Information
- Sexual Orientation/Identity
- Citizenship Status
- Marital Status
- Medical Condition
- Military/Veteran Status
Making job-related decisions based on any of the protected characteristics above is a form of discrimination that is outlawed by both state and federal law. Therefore, an employer cannot fire you simply because of your race.
Employers also cannot fire you based on your perceived race. For instance, let’s say an employer fires you because he believes that you are African American, even though you are not. This is still a form of racial discrimination. Even though you are not actually African American, it is illegal because the employer’s intention was to discriminate against you because of your race. These claims are aggressively pursued in court, and if you are able to prove that you were discriminated against because of your race, you could recover lost wages, benefits, attorneys’ fees, and compensation for your emotional distress.
Example #5: You Were Terminated Because You Reported Illegal Activity
Employees should never be scared to report illegal activity in the workplace. As previously mentioned, the law fortunately prohibits an employer from firing an employee simply because he has reported illegal activity. For example, let’s say an employee contacts the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to report that he suspects his employer is committing accounting fraud. If the employer finds out that the employee made this call, he cannot fire him for reporting suspected illegal activity. Every employee has the right to report suspected legal activity to the appropriate authorities, which is known as “whistleblowing.” Firing an employee for reporting illegal activity is a form of whistleblower retaliation, which is prohibited by law.
Do you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated by your employer? If so, speak to the employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates as soon as possible. Our team of experienced attorneys will fight tirelessly to protect your rights in the workplace and recover the compensation that you deserve for your wrongful termination. Contact us today by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.