Wrongful Termination

What is “wrongful termination?”

California is an at-will employment state.  This means that the employer or the employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal. It does not make a difference whether the employee actually did anything wrong. If the employee is at-will, then the employee can be fired for any reason at all, with some limited exceptions.  However, if an employer violates any of these exceptions, they may be liable for “wrongful termination.” An employer cannot terminate an employee for an unlawful reason. If an employer fires an employee for an unlawful reason, then the employee may be able to bring a successful claim against the employer for wrongful termination.

Who can bring a wrongful termination claim?

Only an employee (or a former employee) can bring a claim for wrongful termination.  Usually, an independent contractor who is discharged, cannot bring a claim for wrongful termination.  (However, if the independent contractor was misclassified as an indie-dented contractor, and should have been classified as an employee, then the independent contractor may have other claims that he may pursue, such as claims for misclassification).

Do I have to be fired to bring a wrongful termination claim?

The basic answer is yes.  However, the law is nuanced. Some courts in California may allow a claim where an employee wasn’t fired, but where the employee was demoted or suspended without pay for a reason that violates public policy.  These cases are typically more difficult to bring a claim for wrongful termination, but may be more appropriate as discrimination, harassment or retaliation claims.

What are the common types of wrongful termination?

As mentioned above, an employer cannot terminate an employee for an unlawful reason. Some examples of being filed for an unlawful reason include (but are not limited to) being fired for:

  • having a physical or mental disability;
  • Being pregnant;
  • race, gender, age, sexual orientation/gender Identity, religion, or national origin;
  • AIDS/HIV status;
  • Military or veteran status;
  • Victim of domestic violence, stalking, or assault;
  • Political beliefs or activities;
  • Retaliation for being a whistleblower;
  • Retaliation for complaints regarding health and safety, unpaid wages, and Labor Code violations;
  • Constructive termination, which occurs when working conditions are so intolerable, that an employee is forced to quit;

There are many more situations that might give rise to a successful claim for wrongful termination.  To determine whether you have been wrongfully terminated, contact our office for a free confidential consultation.

What should I do if I feel that I was wrongfully terminated?

If you think you were wrongfully terminated, then you need to consult with an employment lawyer immediately.  Talking to an employment lawyer about your wrongful termination situation is optional, but having an experienced employment lawyer assist you in filing a claim can be very helpful and beneficial.

Do I need a wrongful termination lawyer?

If you think that you are a victim of wrongful termination or that you were wrongfully terminated from your job, you should contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible.  A skilled experienced employment lawyer can help you understand the law, understand your rights, and can represent your interests in court, if necessary.

Wrongful termination cases are serious and can be quite complex. The company who fired you likely has their own lawyer, and so should you.

An experienced employment lawyer can gather all the facts pertaining to your case, determine your best course of action, and seek the damages to which you are owed.

What can I recover if I bring a successful wrongful termination case?

Each case is different, and you need to speak to a lawyer to determine exactly what forms of damages you may be entitled to recover in the event that your case is successful. However, the typical damages that may be available in your case can include:

  • Lost wages (including back pay and front pay, benefits)
  • you may also potentially be able to recover emotional distress damages (depending not the type of case you bring)
  • You may also be entitled to punitive damages (depending on the type of case you bring, and if the employer’s conduct was especially reprehensible);
  • You may also be able to recover attorneys fees and costs