The basics of wrongful termination in California

Although most employees in California can be terminated for any reason, in some instances, termination is illegal. In such cases, a fired employee may sue for wrongful termination.

Many employees in California are under the mistaken impression that they have no legal protection from being fired in all instances. However, the truth is that some employment terminations are against the law. As a result, it is important to understand when a firing may be illegal, so you can protect yourself.

Wrongful termination

It is true that many employees in California are under an "at-will" employment arrangement. In general, almost all employees without a labor contract are employees at-will. This means that their employer does not need a good reason to terminate their employment in the majority of cases.

However, there is an important exception to at-will employment. If the employer violates a statute or public policy by firing an employee, a wrongful termination has occurred. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, one of the nation's strongest protections against wrongful termination, it is illegal for employers to discriminate in employment decisions on the basis of several factors. Such factors include the employee's:

• Mental or physical disability

• Religion or religious practices

• Race

• Pregnancy

• Gender

• Age

• Sexual orientation or gender identity

• Political affiliation

• National origin

If the decision to terminate the employee was motivated by any of these factors, even if only partially, the termination is illegal under the law. In such instances, the wronged employee may have a claim for wrongful termination. Similarly, if there were many reasons for the termination, a wrongful termination may occur if any illegal reason was more than a trivial factor in the decision.

In addition to these factors, wrongful termination occurs when an employee is terminated because he or she exercised rights granted by law. Common examples when this occurs are when an employee is terminated because of pregnancy/family leave or reporting sexual harassment. Additionally, it is illegal to terminate an employee because he or she reported the employer's illegal conduct or illegal and unsafe working conditions to government authorities (also known as "whistleblowing").

Employees that have experienced wrongful termination have the right to file a lawsuit against their former employers and seek monetary damages. Under the law, wronged employees may recover economic damages, such as loss of past and future wages and benefits. In addition, emotional damages may be recovered. If the employer's conduct is particularly malicious or reprehensible, punitive damages may be awarded as well.

An attorney can help

The success of a wrongful death lawsuit often depends on the facts surrounding the termination. Consequently, it is important to consult with an experienced employment law attorney before seeking compensation. The attorneys at Watkins & Letofsky, LLP can investigate the circumstances surrounding your termination, advise you on your chances of success, and work to obtain the maximum compensation available to you under law.