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Have You Been Wrongfully Terminated?
It is one of life’s expected events, but not as certain as paying taxes and watching politicians stumble over a pandemic relief bill. Some of us actually work an entire career without receiving a kick in the rear that pushes us out of our employer’s front door. However, most of us know how it feels to have an employer utter the two worst words to hear in the workplace.
We keep our heads up, keep our shoulders straight, and march out the front door to find another job. Forget the past, we are told by gurus such as Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz. Nonetheless, what if your employer committed an act of wrongful termination? Does California employment law protect you against getting fired for the wrong reason?
Let’s answer five common questions that concern wrongful termination before we dive deeper into this employment law topic.
How to Prove Workplace Retaliation
Workers that believe their employers have retaliated against them in the workplace have to prove the allegation by invoking the class cause and effect relationship. For example, a worker that complains to the DFEH about acts of discrimination in the workplace might cause the worker’s employer to retaliate against the worker. The effect can be the development of wrongful constructive termination because the employer’s retaliation made it unbearable for the employee to continue working for the employer.
Because of the at-will employment arrangement most California employers follow, the lack of an employment contract might make it difficult to prove employee retaliation. However, you should know that every worker in California is protected from workplace retaliation under state labor laws, as well as the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.
Under California employment status, most workers in California classify as “at-will” employees. At-will means employees can leave their jobs at any time for any reason. Employers have the legal right to fire an employee at any time, but not for any reason. Unless a worker and an employer establish a formal contractual employment arrangement, workers in California fall under the at-will employment classification.
If you lost your job and you think your employer fired you for illegal reasons, then you need to take action with a sense of urgency. First, contact a California employment lawyer who handles wrongful termination cases. Not all employment attorneys have experience handling cases that involve the unlawful firing of California workers. After contacting a wrongful termination lawyer, collect and organize every piece of evidence that relates to your case. Your attorney can help you gather and organize the evidence you need to win a civil lawsuit.
Collecting evidence means obtaining every written document your employer has given you regarding your firing. If you have not saved the documents, ask your former employer to mail the documents to you. Your attorney can persuade your former employer to abide by your request if your former employer refuses to cooperate with your request. Conversations concerning your termination might carry some legal influence during a civil lawsuit, but only if at least one witness corroborates your side of the story. Conversations with one or more managers before you received the letter of termination might also help you when the time comes to argue your wrongful termination claim in front of a civil court judge.
California defines workplace retaliation as any damaging act an employer commits to punish a worker who complained about or reported the act to a governing body. Workplace retaliation laws in California also protect workers against employer backlash for assisting in an investigation that concerns employee rights or one or more illegal activities conducted by an employer.
California workplace retaliation statutes protect workers that report or participate in an investigation that covers one or more of the following incidents:
- Sexual harassment
- Unpaid wages
- Failure to eliminate workplace safety hazards
- Participation in an unlawful activity
Employers cannot retaliate against employees for filing a complaint with management, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It does not matter if a complaint turns out to be invalid; it is all about intent when it comes to workplace retaliation.
Here are several ways your employer can retaliate against you in the workplace:
- Poor job reference
- Relocate you to an inconvenient facility
- Move you to an unpopular shift
- Reduce compensation
- Wrongful termination
The legal relationship between wrongful termination and employee retaliation is easy to explain. Wrongful termination represents one of the many acts of employee retaliation an employer can commit. On the other hand, employee retaliation can produce wrongful constructive termination, which is the legal term that describes how an employer created incredibly intolerable working conditions that force a worker to quit.
Legal Grounds to File a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
Although California is an at-will employment state, employers can run afoul of one or more of the California laws that protect workers against acts of illegal firings. Consulting with a California employment attorney can help you determine whether your employer illegally fired you for one or more of the following reasons.
Just because a large majority of California workers establish at-will employment arrangements with their employers, it does not mean that you might not qualify for one of the exceptions to at-will employment.
- Violation of an employment contract that states an employer cannot fire an employee without good cause
- Breach by employer of an implied contract of fair dealing and good faith
- Violation of public policy
Violation of public policy can include firing a worker because the employee refused to break a law or the employee performed a civic duty. Public policy violations represent the most effective way to argue an exception to an at-will employment arrangement.
An employer breach of an implied contract is a difficult claim to prove since implied refers to not having an agreement in writing. However, an employer can imply a contract of fair dealing and good faith by presenting the reasons for termination in the employee handbook.
Near the top of the list for the most types of civil lawsuit filings for wrongful termination sits “whistleblower retaliation.” As a type of employee retaliation, whistleblower retaliation involves an employer firing a worker because the employee reported a workplace violation to a government and/or law enforcement agency.
As the primary legal protection against whistleblower retaliation California Labor Code 1102.5LC states no employer has the legal right to fire an employee for reporting a suspected violation of a state and/or federal law. California law whistleblower retaliation protections also apply to employees that report workplace violations to their supervisors or another employee who has the authority to correct or at least conduct an investigation into the suspected violation.
A federal law called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 grants employees that work for publicly traded companies the right to file a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination if their employers fired then for reporting securities fraud to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 passed the United States Congress with the intent to protect investors against accounting fraud and misrepresentation.
Enacted in 1959, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act represents the state’s most influential law that protects workers against harassment and acts of discrimination. The FEHA also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees that oppose discrimination or harassment in the workplace, file a complaint about discrimination or harassment, or provide testimony for an investigation or as a witness in a civil lawsuit.
Proving an employer violated the FEHA requires compelling evidence and more than one witness account that describes an act of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
“Wrongful constructive termination” allows an employee to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination against an employer even if the employer did not fire the employee. The term protects employees that face incredibly intolerable working conditions that force employees to resign. Employees that face incredibly intolerable working conditions should contact a California employment attorney to determine the best course of action.
California employee retaliation law protects workers against any backlash coming from an employer because of a worker’s political beliefs and actions. Although the First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not apply to the termination actions taken by private employers, California employment statutes state that employers cannot influence in any way the political speech and actions of employees.
Workers in California have the legal right to sue employers that terminate them because they joined a union and/or participated in union-sanctioned political events.
Workers in California have a strong case if an employer violates the Worker Retraining and Notification Act (WARN). The WARN requires private employers to give workers 60 days of notice before implementing a mass layoff plan. Employers must also provide workers with 60 days of notice for closing or relocating a facility. The WARN act applies to mass layoffs of at least 50 employees for employers that have a minimum of 75 employees on the payroll.
FAQs for Wrongful Termination Laws in California
If you feel that your employer wrongfully terminated you, the first item on your to-do list should be to speak with a California-licensed Employment Lawyer, who specializes in Wrongful Termination. When you meet with your attorney for the first time, you already have the answers to five frequently asked questions.
How you handle a firing goes a long way towards determining the outcome of a wrongful termination case. Even if your employer committed an egregious act of wrongful termination, you want to resist the temptation to lash out with angry comments. Contact an employment law attorney for advice and if you signed a work agreement, understand what is in the contract before you meet with your lawyer. Make sure your employer provides you with a copy of a written statement that lists the reason(s) for your termination.
A wrongful termination lawsuit represents a legal action that claims an employer fired a worker for one or more illegal reasons.
Here are the common types of wrongful termination claims:
- Whistleblower actions (employee retaliation)
- Violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
- Going against public policy
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim (employee retaliation)
- Taking legally allowed employee sick or family leave
- Violation of an employment contract
The type of lawsuit filed by a worker determines the type of damages awarded by the judge overseeing the claim. You can receive one or more of the following types of damages.
- Back pay
- Lost wages and benefits
- Punitive damages
- Monetary damages for pain and suffering
- Court and legal fees
Convincing a judge to award monetary damages for the pain and suffering caused by your employer requires the submission of a considerable amount of persuasive evidence.
California employment law allows only employees to file a wrongful termination claim and/or a civil lawsuit. A worker who receives direction from an employer is considered an employee. Employer control is another criteria for defining an employee, with control involving supervision on a daily basis. As opposed to the definition of an employee, an independent contractor provides a product or a service, but the employer has no legal control over the independent contractor. An independent contractor can file a breach of contract lawsuit against an employer, but no a wrongful termination lawsuit.
According to Section 335.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, employees have two years from the date of termination to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. Another reason to get a firing in writing is to establish the official date when the employer fired an employee.
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Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Wrongful Termination Lawyer
If you feel your employer wrongfully terminated you and/or has committed at least one act of workplace retaliation, you should act with a sense of urgency by scheduling a free case evaluation with an experienced employment attorney. Although you have two years to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer, it is important to file the proper paperwork as soon as possible to ensure you get the most reliable witness accounts of what transpired in the workplace.
Most employment lawyers that handle wrongful termination lawsuits work on a contingency basis. This means your attorney gets paid when you get paid.