California is an at-will employment state, meaning an employer has the right to terminate the employment of any worker for no reason or without notice. But at-will employment doesn’t mean your employer can fire you for illegal reasons.
What Are Unlawful Grounds for Termination?
One of the most common types of wrongful termination stems from discrimination. Legally, “discrimination” means that you suffered an "adverse employment action" because you are a member of a “protected class,” such as:
- Sexual orientation
An adverse employment action can include having your hours cut, being demoted, being taken off projects, being denied a promotion, being denied a raise, or being terminated. These are just examples, but generally an adverse employment action occurs when there is a concrete impact on your earnings or job trajectory.
Another common type of wrongful termination is retaliation. Your employer cannot fire you because you engaged in a legally “protected activity,” including:
- Complaining about unpaid wages
- Complaining about unsafe working conditions
- Complaining about illegal conduct at work
- Complaining about harassment or discrimination
- Participating in an investigation or serving as a witness
- Taking disability, medical, or family leave
- Seeking accommodations for a disability
- Performing military service
- Attending jury duty
A “complaint” does not need to be formal or even in writing. It does not need to be a complaint outside the organization or to Human Resources (although we usually would recommend making a written complaint to HR so we can prove you complained). It can be as simple as telling your supervisor orally about any of the issues listed above.
Breach of Contract
Although it is not common, some employees have contracts that guarantee them job security unless there is "cause" to terminate them. This does not apply to at-will employees and is most common for union employees. If this applies to you and you are terminated without cause, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.
Filing a Complaint
Filing a formal complaint is the first step in gaining justice for the wrongdoing against you. It is the first official statement detailing the factual and legal basis of the case, and it is crucial that everything is correct. You should talk to an attorney before filing a formal complaint about wrongful termination.
In California, there are a few different agencies that you can file a claim through, depending on the type of wrongful termination. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) investigate claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on your membership in a protected category. They don’t investigate claims of retaliation based on complaining of unpaid wages or unsafe working conditions: the agencies that investigate those wrongful termination claims are usually the Labor Commissioner and OSHA, respectively.
There are also time limits for submitting complaints to these agencies. Each agency has different time limits: for example, the EEOC requires complaints to be filed within 300 days from the wrongful termination, while the DFEH gives you three years.
The fact that there are so many agencies that investigate wrongful termination claims, depending on the basis of the wrongful termination is why you should talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.
What is a Right to Sue Notice?
The right to sue is a document given by the EEOC or DFEH informing an employee that they are allowed to file a lawsuit against their employer. You only need a right to sue notice for certain types of wrongful termination claims: another reason you should talk to a lawyer if you think you have been wrongfully terminated.
How Wrongful Terminations Affect Employees
Wrongful termination often means the loss of one’s income and other benefits, including health insurance, retirement, and even stocks. Because we dedicate so much of our lives and our energy to work and our careers, being wrongfully terminated also causes well-documented medical and psychological harms.
All of these damages, as well as attorney fees, can be recovered for employees who win a wrongful termination lawsuit against their employer.
Contact Our Los Angeles Employment Law Team Today
We have vast knowledge and understand of complicated employment law cases, including wrongful terminations. We are committed to helping those that have been unjustly fired get the compensation they deserve.
If you have been wrongfully terminated do not hesitate to contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 for a free case evaluation!