Hundreds of thousands of California workers are fired each year – and many of these people are terminated illegally. The Golden State may have some of the toughest labor laws in the nation, but it is also home to many negligent, abusive, and discriminatory employers. A recent report shows that California businesses are 40% more likely to be sued by their own employees than the average American business.
Can you really file a lawsuit for without cause termination in California after being fired? How much compensation can you recover? Is this type of lawsuit even worth your time? The only way to find out is to get in touch with a Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney to discuss your unique situation.
What Exactly Does it Mean to Be Fired With or Without Cause?
If you have been fired without cause, it likely means that your boss is simply letting you go for no reason. Contrary to popular opinion, your employer doesn’t actually have to come up with a valid reason to fire you. They can simply offer vague statements like:
“It’s just not working out.”
“We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”
Being fired with cause means that your employer is firing you and it usually has something to do with your shortcomings or misconduct. This might include failure to meet quotas, stealing, tardiness, and so on.
Is California an At-Will Employment State?
California has specific laws when it comes to employment and wrongful termination. It follows a system of “at-will” employment, which means that there is no legal requirement for your employer to give you a specific reason when terminating you. The employment can come to an end abruptly – whenever your boss feels like it.
At-will employment is a double-edged sword, and employees also have the ability to leave their jobs at the drop of a hat.
So what does this mean for wrongful termination lawsuits? Simply put, you may be able to sue your employer if they fire you without a valid reason.
What is Contract Employment?
In many cases, employers ask new hires to sign contracts. These contracts may lay out specific obligations, responsibilities, and requirements for both parties. These are called employment contracts, and they are particularly common for high-earning professionals and major corporations.
An employment contract can cover just about anything. If you are working with secret formulas and protected intellectual property, your contract may lay out legal penalties if you share this information with third parties.
Your employment contract may also describe the employer’s expectations, including quotas, bonuses, sexual harassment policies, and so on.
But for this discussion, the most relevant aspect of an employment contract has to do with termination. Your contract may state that you may only be terminated for specific reasons. If your employer violates this contract and fires you without providing a valid reason, they may be sued for breach of contract.
This is a notable exception to California’s at-will system of employment laws.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Termination?
There are many examples of wrongful termination:
- Breach of Employment Contract: As previously discussed, you can be wrongfully terminated if your employer breaches your employment contract when firing you. The specifics depend on your unique contract, but this can easily result in a lawsuit.
- Discrimination: There are several “protected classes” in California. Being fired because you fall into one of these categories is illegal. You may also be wrongfully terminated if you express certain beliefs or views.
- Retaliation for Whistleblowing: California’s Whistleblower Protection Act protects whistleblowers from being wrongfully terminated. If you report an improper activity, you cannot be retaliated against in any way. This includes not only termination, but also demotion, suspension, etc.
- Retaliation for Reporting Harassment: If you witness workplace harassment and report it, your employer cannot fire you as a result.
- Retaliation for Refusing to Work: In some situations, you are protected against retaliation for refusing to work. This includes work that is illegal or unsafe.
- Fired for Being Pregnant: Your employer cannot fire you for becoming pregnant, as this constitutes gender-based discrimination.
- Fired for Taking Leave: California gives many workers the opportunity to take leave. For example, you might take leave due to your pregnancy, recent childbirth, or a medical issue. Your employer cannot fire you for exercising this right.
What is Considered a Protected Class?
In California, workers cannot be discriminated against for having certain characteristics. This means that employers cannot fire workers for displaying these characteristics. According to the California State Senate, you may enjoy safeguards against wrongful terminations if you fall under any of these protected classes:
- Medical conditions related to gender
- Gender identity
- Gender expression
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Medical condition
- Genetic characteristics
- Family history of certain diseases
- Military status
- Veteran status
- National origin
- Physical disability
- Mental disability
- Genetic information
- Request for family care leave
- Request for medical leave based on a serious condition
- Request for pregnancy disability leave
- Retaliation for reporting patient abuse
- Age (only if over the age of 40)
What are Legal Reasons for Termination?
Remember, your employer does not have to provide you with an acceptable reason for termination due to California’s at-will employment laws. As long as they are not discriminating against you, violating your employment contract, or committing any other aforementioned misconduct, they can fire you for no reason at all.
That being said, here are some acceptable reasons that an employer might provide when terminating an employee:
- Substance abuse issues
- Leaving early
- Taking too many sick days
- Failure to perform the job
- Posting sensitive company information on social media
- Starting a relationship with another employee (if this violates company policy)
- Aggressive conduct
- Damaging or losing company property
There are a few exceptions to the aforementioned discrimination laws:
- Exceptions to Age Discrimination: In some cases, it is necessary to hire people of a specific age. For example, a theater company might need to hire a young person to play the role of a teenager in a play.
- Exceptions to Gender Discrimination: In some cases, people may want to hire specific genders for valid reasons. For example, a female patient may feel more comfortable hiring a female nurse to help with intimate or embarrassing treatments.
- Bona fide occupational qualification: Also known as “BFOQ,” bona fide occupational qualification means that a company must hire a specific category of candidate in order to function normally. For example, it is legally acceptable to terminate pilots once they reach a certain age due to safety concerns. It is also legally acceptable for a Catholic church to hire only Catholic priests.
- Nepotism: Finally, it is acceptable for employers in the private sector to hire or terminate individuals based on nepotism. For example, your boss might fire you because they would rather have their son take your job. That is usually legal.
Does My Employer Have to Tell Me Why I Was Fired?
Your employer only needs to tell you why they’re firing you if they are specifically required to do so under your employment contract. Otherwise, they do not need to give you an explanation.
What are Promises of Continued Employment?
In some cases, employers may make implied promises of continued employment to their workers. Even if your employer didn’t specifically state that you would be employed long into the future, they may still be legally obligated to follow through on an implied promise.
There are two examples of promises of continued employment: First, your boss might promise to continue to employ you as long as you meet quotas. Second, your boss might promise to promote you if you perform well. In both situations, the implication is that your boss wants to keep you with the company.
Termination after these implied promises may lead to wrongful termination lawsuits.
Am I Required to Receive Notice Before I am Fired From My Job?
In most cases, employers are under no obligation to provide you with any notice of termination due to California’s at-will system. This means that you could walk into your workplace one morning and be fired completely out of the blue.
That being said, there are a few exceptions. First, your employer must provide you with notice if they are required to do so under your employment contract. Secondly, they must provide you with notice if the layoff is covered under the WARN Act.
What Should I Do if I Was Fired Without Cause?
If you were fired without cause, you should take a number of steps:
- Check Your Employment Contract: The first step is to review your employment contract if you have one. This document may contain details about when and how you can legally be terminated.
- Consider the Real Reason: Even if your employer didn’t provide a reason for your termination, they could be hiding their real motives. Consider whether your termination could be a result of discrimination, retaliation, or any of the aforementioned violations of California’s labor laws.
- Contact a Lawyer: Even if you can’t quite determine whether you were unlawfully terminated, you may still have an opportunity to sue. Book a consultation with a lawyer to review your case in more detail.
What Can I Do if My Employer Does Not Release My Final Paycheck?
If you are experiencing this conduct, you should know that it is illegal under California law. Document this behavior if you can by saving text messages, emails, or written letters. Next, contact an attorney to discuss your next steps.
Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination if I Quit Because of Intolerable Work Conditions?
This is known as “constructive discharge,” and it can form the basis of a wrongful termination lawsuit. In this situation, the California legal system views your decision to quit in the same way as termination. As a result, you can still sue and recover compensation for this misconduct.
Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination if I Was Fired For Reporting Unsafe Work Conditions?
California’s labor laws protect whistleblowers and other individuals who report misconduct at their workplaces. If you reported unsafe working conditions, your employer is breaking the law by firing you – and you can file a wrongful termination lawsuit as a result.
What is My Wrongful Termination Case Worth?
Your settlement or judgment amount depends on your specific situation – including your total lost wages, your degree of emotional distress, any humiliation you might have suffered, etc. The only way to accurately predict your settlement amount is to get in touch with a lawyer.
Why Should a Person Hire Fraigun Law for a Wrongful Termination Case?
If you are looking for a tenacious Los Angeles employment lawyer, the Fraigun Law Group is a solid bet. Thanks to plenty of experience with labor lawsuits, this law firm can guide you toward a positive outcome in a confident, efficient manner.
The only way to know for sure whether you have been wrongfully terminated is to get in touch with a qualified attorney. Choose the Fraigun Law Firm to discuss your unique situation and immediately get started with an effective action plan. Book your consultation today.