What You Need to Know about Wrongful Termination Lawsuits in California

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A wrongful termination lawsuit in California is filed when an employee claims that he/she was fired or laid off from work on account of an improper or unlawful reason. Generally, such lawsuits are applicable when an employee is terminated for:

  • Violating the implied contract terms,
  • Against public policy,
  • For whistleblower activities,
  • For exercising his/her rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act,
  • For filing a worker’s compensation claim,
  • For reporting a workplace injury,
  • For exercising his/her rights under the California employee leave laws, and
  • Violating the WARN Act.

An employee filing a wrongful termination lawsuit can recover compensation for lost wages and staff benefits, emotional distress and/or pain and suffering that resulted because of the wrongful termination. Not only that but back pay, wages, lawyer’s fee, as well as punitive damages against the willful offense of the employer. Note that most of the employment relationships in the state of California are “at-will”. This allows employers to dismiss their staff(s) at any time and for any reason. However, the California Labor Law mandates that no employer should fire or lay off an employee without a valid cause.

Employers can create an “implied contract” to clearly state that they would not terminate their employee(s) without good reason. They can issue an employee handbook to their staff members listing all the specific reasons why they might be fired or laid off or inform them about the company policies on termination in person at the time of joining. If an employee is wrongfully terminated even after following the implied contract terms, then he/she is eligible to file a lawsuit in court for claiming compensation for his/her damages. If you are an employer who is being accused of wrongful termination it is important that you find an experienced employment defense attorney to help you handle your case and make sure that you are represented in a way that will protect both you and your business from false claims.

Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy

Wrongful termination for violating public policy usually happens when a worker is fired or laid off because he/she refused to cooperate with the employer to commit an act that is against the law or is considered socially harmful. For instance, if an employee is terminated because he/she did not help the employer to violate criminal fraud laws, he/she can file a case for wrongful termination.

Another common type of wrongful termination for violating public policy is “whistleblower” retaliation. For instance, if an employee reports a probable violation of law by his/her employer to the law enforcement authorities, the employer might terminate the worker for his/her action. However, the California Labor Code 1102.5 LC requires employers not to retaliate against any of their staff members who report any suspicious activity that could be or is against the law. There are other whistleblower protection laws as well, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the “qui tam” section of the California False Claims Act, which give employees the right to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination for reporting suspected employer activities.

Laws Protecting the Rights of Employees Who Face Wrongful Termination

The Fair Employment and Housing Act of California aims to protect employees from workplace harassment and discrimination. As per the law, it is illegal for an employer to fire or lay off a staff member because he/she opposed/reported harassment or discrimination at the workplace. The law also gives employees the right to file a wrongful termination lawsuit if an employer discharged them for testifying or assisting in any kind of investigation over workplace harassment or discrimination.

The California “wrongful constructive termination” or “constructive discharge” laws allow employees to file a lawsuit against their employers even if they are not yet actually terminated from the company. For instance, if the employer sets unrealistic or unachievable targets for the employee, or intentionally makes the working conditions so difficult that the employee has no option but to resign, then he/she can file a wrongful constructive termination lawsuit in California. This law also applies to cases where the employer does not have the right to fire or lay off an employee because of the implied contract or because doing so would be against public policy.

An employee can also file a wrongful termination lawsuit if the employer fails to comply with California’s Worker Retraining and Notification (WARN) Act. As per the law, employers in the state of California are required to provide their staff members a 60-day notice before committing a massive lay off or closing the company. This applies to all businesses that have more than 75 employees. In case there is no such notice issued by the employer, employees can file a wrongful termination lawsuit to claim compensation for their lost wages and benefits.

The California Labor Law also allows employees to sue their company for wrongful termination if they were fired or laid off because of their protected political activities or public speech. Although the First Amendment to the US Constitution is not applicable to employee terminations in private companies, the California Labor Law adds that employers cannot direct or control their staff members’ political activities or speech. This allows employees to file a wrongful termination lawsuit in case they are fired or laid off for taking part in political activities or for joining a labor union. An employer is allowed to protect themselves and their business from false claims and accusations of wrongful termination practices with the help of a defense attorney in order to disprove and or settle things outside the court of law.

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