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Wrongful Termination in California

Defending against a wrongful termination claim in California can be complex and challenging. California is known for its strong employee protections, so employers must be well-prepared to defend themselves if they believe the termination was lawful. At Law Office of Albert Chang, we have handled wrongful termination cases for employers. We will identify whether the wrongful termination claim against you is legitimate and guide you through the legal process and represent your interests. Contact us today either by using our ONLINE FORM or calling us at (310) 769-6836 to schedule a free consultation and learn more about why you should choose Law Office of Albert Chang for the wrongful termination case against your business.

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination in California?

Wrongful termination occurs when:

  1. The employer violates its own written or verbal policies or stipulations for termination; or
  2. The employer violates state or federal law via the termination of employment; or
  3. The employer creates a hostile work environment that leads to constructive termination – where the employee finds the working conditions so intolerable that they are forced to resign.

California is an at-will employment state. At-will employment means an employer does not need to have a reason to terminate an employee's employment, and vice versa, an employee does not need a reason to quit their job. But even where at-will employment is recognized, an employee can still be wrongfully terminated for either of the two reasons above-mentioned: violation of employer stipulations or violation of the law.

Examples of Wrongful Termination in California

It can be confusing to know there are many situations you can be claimed that you wrongfully terminated your employee. Although unfair does not mean wrongful, wrongful termination can materialize in several different ways. Here are the most common that occur today.

Breach of Contract

Employment agreements are contracts that contain terms, conditions, and consideration (income, paid time off, retirement, health insurance, etc.) the employee will receive in exchange for their work. In other words, the contract spells out what is expected of the employee in return for their wages and other benefits. These contracts do not have to be written to be enforced. If the employers breaches the employment contracts and fires their employees, they are guilty of wrongful termination. 

Public Policy Violations

Employers are not allowed to terminate an employee when doing so would violate public policy. In other words, employers may not fire their employees for any unlawful reasons. For example, if an employer directs an employee to perform an act that is illegal, and then fires them for refusing to perform that act, it is a wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Following are the examples of termination for unlawful reasons:

1. Discrimination

When an employee is terminated, or a potential employee is denied a job, due to any of the following reasons, they are the object of employment discrimination. 

  • Age (over 40)
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Skin color
  • Harassment
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity
  • Retaliation
  • Religion
  • Genetic Information
  • Compensation/Equal Pay

Employers cannot terminate an employee or pass over an applicant based on any of the above-bulleted characteristics. 

2. Whistleblowing

Employees may sometimes engage in behavior that their employer is not happy about. For example, an employee may become aware of illegal activities being conducted by the company and report those illegal activities to the proper authorities. If the employer retaliates against the employee by firing them for reporting the illegal activities, they are guilty of wrongful termination. 

3. Family and Medical Leave Law Violations

Federal and state family and medical leave law provides employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for up to twelve weeks per year. The leave is available for employees suffering from a serious health condition or who need to take time off for certain family-related matters, like giving birth, adopting a child, or caring for a family member with a serious health condition. Employers cannot terminate an employee for exercising the rights given to them under the these leave laws. If an employer does terminate a person because they took leave under these leave laws, it is a violation of federal and state law and constitutes a wrongful termination. 

4. Wage and Hour Disputes

Federal and state law establishes rules for how wages should be paid, including pay for overtime and commissions earned. When an employer terminates an employee for seeking to enforce the rules and regulations set forth by the these laws, they have engaged in wrongful termination. 

5. Retaliation

Termination can be one means of retaliation. What happens typically is when an employer fires an employee who took leave via leave laws, demanded compliance with the wage and hour laws, complained of sexual or racial harassment or complained of discrimination based on any of the protected characteristics above-listed. Retaliation is unlawful and could be a separate claim against the employer in conjunction with discrimination or harassment.

What Should Employers in California Do to Prevent Wrongful Termination?

Employers should be proactive to prevent their company or business from engaging in wrongful termination. The consequences of a successful wrongful termination claim can be dire for the company. So, by being proactive, a business can prevent future litigation, fines, and penalties. 

1. Clarity. Employers should always be clear regarding what is expected of an employee. When an employee fails to follow through with clearly laid-out expectations, and the employer keeps track of this failure, it goes a long way to protect the employer from charges of wrongful termination should they terminate the employee. 

2. Documentation. Documentation is key – employers must be able to show that the employee knew what was expected of them, failed to meet those expectations, was disciplined and warned pursuant to company guidelines, and still failed to meet expectations. 

3. Training and employee handbook. Training and having a written employee handbook both go a long way to keeping employers and employees on the same page. It is important that employers ensure their training and handbook are compliant with federal, state, and local regulations.

4. Liability insurance. Liability insurance is also something employers should consider purchasing. Even the most careful employer can find themselves facing a lawsuit for wrongful termination, and liability insurance can assist by defraying the costs associated with defending against the claim.  

5. Legal counsel. An attorney well-versed in employment law can help employers make sure they have all the required mechanisms in place to prevent wrongful terminations, discrimination, and harassment, among other issues that could put the company at risk of litigation. 

Remedies for Wrongful Termination

There are quite a few possible remedies available to a person who has been wrongfully discharged in California. Remedies will be dependent in part on whether you filed a complaint through federal or state agencies or through the court system. Here is an overview of the most common remedies. 

Lost wages. From the time you were terminated to the time trial begins, you can seek compensation for lost wages. If you find a job during that time, compensation for lost wages will be reduced accordingly.

Lost future earnings. If you cannot find a position or one that pays you comparably, you can seek compensation for this loss of future earnings.

Lost benefits. If you lost benefits – like paid time off, bonuses, retirement, and more – it can be compensated through economic damages. 

Out-of-pocket expenses. Out-of-pocket expenses include costs associated with things like medical care (e.g., therapy for harassment) or job search (e.g., fees associated with a headhunter).

Pain and suffering. This type of compensation is known as non-economic and could include anything from mental anguish to a decrease in quality of life as a negative effect of the termination.

Injunctive relief. The court can order the employer to undertake certain acts, like reinstating you as an employee in your former position or requiring policy and procedure changes to prevent wrongful terminations in the future. 

Attorneys' fees and costs. You can request reimbursement for attorneys' fees and court costs, and if you win, the court can order the employer to pay these costs.

Punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish egregious or malicious behavior and to prevent the same from happening again. California caps the amount to be awarded. Speak to our employment lawyer at Law Office of Albert Chang to know if your case is at risk of being imposed to punitive damages under your particular circumstances.

Contact Our Office Today

Every wrongful termination case is unique, and the specific facts and circumstances of your case will determine the best defense strategy. Do not hesitate to contact our employment law attorney to discuss your case. We are here to make sure you achieve the most cost-effective resolution in your wrongful termination case. Contact us today either by using our ONLINE FORM or calling us at (310) 769-6836 to schedule a free consultation.

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