If you have been terminated or fired from your job, the first question to ask yourself is whether the firing was legal or illegal. In California, most employment is “at-will,” which means an employee may be fired at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. If this happens, you can sue your employer to recover damages. In some cases, the employer will have to pay significant extra penalties and costs.
Losing your job under any circumstances can be a traumatic and stressful experience. However, if your job termination was illegal or came under unfair circumstances in which you were harassed, discriminated or retaliated against, it is particularly awful and unfair. A firing or layoff that involves violations of the law is known as wrongful termination. Wrongful termination describes being fired for reasons that violate the law or your contract as an employee. While you can be fired for no reason at all if you’re employed at-will, you cannot be fired for an unlawful reason that is defined by local and state laws as well as your employee handbook.
If you have a written job contract with your California employer that sets forth the conditions of your employment and the duration of such a contract, you are not an at-will employee. For example, you may have a job contract that states you will be employed for a specific duration. You may also have an offer letter or other written document that promises you continued employment. If you have such contracts in place, you may be able to enforce them in court.
An implied contract, which is essentially an agreement based on things your employer said and did, is also another exception to the at-will rule. However, this type of contract may be challenging to uphold because this type of wrongful termination can be difficult to prove.
Courts in California examine a number of factors when it comes to determining whether an implied contract existed. These factors include the duration of your employment; frequency of job promotions; positive performance reviews; assurances of continued employment; whether your employer gave you notice of a firing or layoff; and whether you were assured of long-term or permanent employment when you were hired.
The damages a worker can recover from a wrongful termination lawsuit in California depend on the type of claim. But generally, they will include one or more of the following categories of wrongful termination damages:
- Lost wages and benefits;
- Back pay and wages;
- Compensation for emotional distress / pain and suffering arising from the loss of your job;
- Attorney’s fees; and/or
- Punitive damages designed to punish willful wrongdoing by the employer.
And the most common claims are that the firing amounted to:
- Wrongful termination in violation of an implied contract,
- Wrongful termination against public policy,
- Termination for whistleblower activities,
- Termination for exercising rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act or for protected political activities,
- Termination for filing a workers compensation claim or reporting a work injury,
- Termination for exercising rights under California employee leave laws, and
- WARN Act violations (in cases involving mass layoffs).
If you feel like you’ve been wrongfully terminated it is crucial to know your rights under California law as you may be entitled to compensation from your employer. An experienced wrongful termination lawyer from the Workers’ Advocate Law Group can guide you through this legal issue and the processes of filing a claim for being wrongfully terminated and provide legal advice on how to proceed.
What Are Unfair Workplace Practices?
If your California employer breached their duty or acted in bad faith, they may have acted illegally in firing you.
Examples of wrongful termination include:
- Deliberately misleading employees about chances of promotions or salary increases.
- Laying off an older worker to replace him or her with a younger person who will work for lower pay.
- Transferring employees to undesirable locations and assignments with the intention of forcing them to quit without collecting severance pay or other benefits to which they would be entitled.
- Misleading employees about negative aspects of a particular job to trick them into taking on the job or assignment.
- Taking adverse action against an employee to prevent him or her from collecting commissions or other payments that are due to them.
These are some illegal reasons for firing employees:
- Retaliation: An employer can’t legally fire you to get back at you for something you did, such as report an instance of abuse or file some type of complaint. If you believe your employer fired you as a form of retaliation, you may be able to take legal action.
- Discrimination: Employees are protected from being discriminated against for factors such as race, ethnicity, color, religion, age, gender, sex, and disability, and being fired for one of these protected classes is itself a type of discrimination.
- Violation of employment agreement: If, for whatever reason, your employer is violating the terms of your contract by firing you, this can be considered wrongful termination. For example, some employment contracts specify that an employee can only be fired for specific reasons, so firing them for reasons other than those listed is unlawful.
In short, these laws place important limits on an employer’s ability to terminate employees. An employee fired for reasons that violate these laws may be entitled to a wrongful termination claim for lost wages, benefits, and more.
Wrongful termination can sometimes be hard to prove, but getting the compensation you deserve is worth it. That is why it is so important to seek legal advice and guidance from an experienced employment and wrongful termination lawyer. Our team of wrongful termination lawyers can provide the proper guidance, assistance and comprehensive approach.
These are some of the damages that affect how much you can recover:
- Lost wages: You may be entitled to the wages you would have received if your employer had not fired you as well as any earned and unpaid wages, overtime or other compensation you have earned, but not received. This amount will likely be reduced by any wages you earn after being terminated, for example if you get hired at the same or higher rate of pay. If you get hired at a lower pay, you will continue to receive lost pay damages equal to the difference between what your old job paid and what you are earning at your new job.
- Lost benefits: You will be able to receive the value of lost employment benefits. These benefits may include medical and dental insurance, pension, retirement benefits such as 401k plans, stock options, etc.
- Pain and suffering: You may also seek wrongful termination compensation for emotional distress. This could particularly apply to cases where the employer has acted badly and the employee has suffered emotional distress that can be verified by a mental health professional. For example, if the employee suffered from depression or anxiety after the job loss, which can be verified by his or her psychiatrist, the plaintiff is likely to receive these damages.
- Punitive damages: These are awarded in addition to compensatory damages. These damages are awarded in the most egregious cases and are intended to not only punish the defendant but also to deter similar behavior by others in the future.
- Attorney’s fees: In many wrongful termination cases, you may also be able to recover attorney’s fees and other court costs.
Did your Employer Discriminate/Retaliate against you?
It is illegal for California companies to fire at-will employees based on discrimination. If you were fired because of protected characteristics such as race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability or pregnancy, it is important that you speak with a wrongful termination lawyer right away. There are statutes of limitations or deadlines that apply to discrimination claims. So, time is of the essence.
California employers are also prohibited under the law from retaliating against workers who have engaged in activities that are legally protected. Plaintiffs in workplace retaliation lawsuits must show that they lost their job as the direct result of their employer’s retaliation. Workers must show that they were engaged in an activity that is protected under California employment law such as filing a complaint with the human resources department or with the Los Angeles Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Plaintiffs must also show that the employer’s retaliatory action had adverse consequences on the job such as a demotion, salary decrease or an unwarranted negative performance review.
What to do when you’ve been terminated unfairly
If you’ve either been wrongfully terminated (discharged or laid off) or compelled to quit due to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, it’s important to contact an employment attorney as soon as you possibly can. The experienced Workers’ Advocate Law Group can explain your rights under the law and help you make an informed decision about taking legal action. This area of law is complex and case-specific. Therefore, you’ll want to resist the temptation to make assumptions that you don’t have grounds for a case before you’ve connected with a legal professional.
File your wrongful termination claim today so that you can know for sure whether you’re empowered to hold your employer accountable for unlawful termination. Consultations are confidential and risk-free, so you have nothing to lose and potentially much to gain by speaking with an attorney. The sooner the attorneys learn about your specific circumstances, the sooner we can begin building a strong case on your behalf.
Count on an experienced lawyer from Workers’ Advocate Law Group who has extensive experience in fighting for their clients’ employment rights. You can contact our firm online to schedule your free consultation in English or Spanish today. Our team will be more than happy to assist you accordingly.