Wrongful Termination Attorneys

When an employer terminates an employee for reasons the employee believes to be improper, untruthful, or potentially illegal, it is most common for an employee to believe they have been subject to a wrongful termination.  Almost all terminations can be classified as wrongful.  The question is whether the termination is both wrongful and illegal.

Formally known under the law as Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy, the commonly referred to “wrongful termination” is a broad legal term that challenges a termination or dismissal based on a variety of different laws including, among others, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or the California Labor Code.  Since a wrongful termination is almost always based on the violation of another law, in practice, it is effectively a piggyback claim to one of the more traditional claims normally asserted.  There are, however, differences in a claim for wrongful termination and other statutory claims such as harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.  For example, a cause of action for wrongful termination has a longer statute of limitations than a cause of action for discrimination but does not allow for remedies such as the provision of attorneys’ fees to a prevailing employee.  In addition, a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy generally cannot be asserted against a public entity.  Despite this, it is rare for a cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy to be asserted in a lawsuit absent its foundational claim, thus, the limitation on time and remedies is typically not an issue.

The most basic example of an unlawful wrongful termination is when an employee is terminated after being subject to workplace discrimination because of their race (or gender, age, religion, sexual preference/sexual orientation, etc.) and the employee believes their race was the specific cause and reason the employer terminated their employment, regardless of the reason the employer provided to them.  Another basic example is when an employee serves as a whistleblower regarding improper or unlawful workplace conduct and is then subject to a prompt termination.  Importantly, an employer will almost never provide the employee or otherwise identify the reason for the termination as the unlawful conduct they engaged in.  Instead, employers who engage in this conduct will provide another reason for the termination that appears legitimate on its face (such as poor attendance or performance or lack of work), when in actuality the reason the employer terminated the employee was unlawful.  Employees should never ignore their feelings, perceptions, or beliefs that they may have been subject to a wrongful termination because of an employer’s reason or explanation, because it very easily could be false.

Some other examples of situations where a claim for wrongful termination may be appropriate:

  • An employee who is fired after the employee has made a complaint or complaints about what they perceived to be an unlawful or illegal business practices (such as fraud, embezzlement, failure to follow either California of Federal Laws, etc.) the employer or a manager or supervisor is engaged in the workplace;
  • Shortly after a new supervisor assumes complete or partial managerial responsibility for an older employee (an employee who is at least over the age of forty years old) is fired because the supervisor is trying to bring in new, younger talent;
  • An employee is fired right after they ask a supervisor or manager why they and/or other employees were not being paid overtime for all hours they worked over eight (8) in a day at the rate of time and a half their regular hourly rate or the applicable wage;
  • A female employee is fired after complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace after a male employee continues to make romantic and sexual advances towards her, makes inappropriate comments about her appearance, and consistently puts her in uncomfortable situations; or
  • A female employee is fired after complaining that she does not receive pay equal to that of her male colleagues when they perform the same or similar duties and have the same or similar responsibilities in what appears to be a violation of the Equal Pay Acts.

Although these are just a few general examples, hopefully they highlight situations where wrongful termination claims should be explored.  It is very helpful that California employees understand the term wrongful termination may mean they have legal rights that may have been violated, perhaps even in a far broader sense than simply a wrongful termination.  If an employee has any suspicion that their termination was a “wrongful termination” or in any way unlawful or seemingly improper, they should contact an attorney to discuss the specific facts of their case.