At-Will Employee Rights And California Discrimination Laws
California is an “at-will” employment state. This means that for most employees, their employer may fire them at any time and for any reason so long as it’s not for an unlawful reason. The termination may be unfair, but being unfair is not necessarily unlawful unless it violates a specific law or public policy. There are situations where job termination may be unlawful:
- If the termination was unlawful discrimination on the basis of your age, race, sex, religion, national origin or other protected classification.
- If the termination was in retaliation for exercising your rights such as taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), filing a sexual harassment complaint or supporting another’s claim.
- If you had a written or verbal employment contract and the termination violated the terms and conditions of that contract.
- If you were fired after refusing to carry out an illegal act on behalf of your employer.
- If you were fired in a manner that is in violation of California or federal law such as being a whistleblower.
It can be very difficult to prove that you were terminated for one of the reasons mentioned above, which is why you should contact Villegas Carrera to determine if you have a valid wrongful termination claim.
Although wrongful termination, by definition, concerns the illegal firing of a worker, a claim may also be brought for constructive discharge if an employee feels that he or she has no choice but to quit a job. California recognizes that in some cases, an employer may make working conditions so intolerable for an employee that any reasonable person would feel compelled to resign. If you felt forced to quit a job because your employer made your job conditions unbearable, we can help determine whether you may have a valid legal claim.
Whistleblower Protections And Retaliation
There are both state and federal laws in place that are designed to protect whistleblowers from wrongful termination and retaliatory discharge. These laws are meant to allow workers to notify the government about illegal employer practices, such as health and safety [Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)] violations, without having to fear being fired.
If an employer retaliates against a worker who has informed the government about illegal activities, the employer may be subject to civil penalties. In these types of cases, the employer has the burden of proof. That is, the employer must show that it would have fired or demoted the worker regardless of the employee’s status as a whistleblower. The experienced attorneys at Villegas Carrera will thoroughly review your claim to help determine whether you may have experienced illegal retaliation for acting as a whistleblower.
Breach of Contract And Wrongful Dismissal
As stated above, California is considered to be an “at-will” employment state. Unless an employment contract states otherwise, any contractual relationship between an employee and an employer will be considered to be at-will, and either party may terminate this relationship at any time for any reason. However, some employment relationships may involve entering into a contract that sets forth the duration of the employment period and lists a number of “good cause” reasons for terminating the contract before it expires.
If an employer fires an employee without good cause, or if good cause is used as pretext for firing the employee for some other reason, then it may be possible to bring a wrongful dismissal claim due to a breach of contract. In addition, an implied contract may be in place in other documents that outline when an employee may expect to be terminated. If an employee is fired in a manner that goes against the law, he or she may also have a wrongful termination claim based on breach of implied contract.
In any employment contract, either expressly stated or implied, the state of California recognizes a covenant of good faith and fair dealing in employment relationships. Essentially, this means that employers are legally bound to treat their employees fairly. If, for example, an employer were to fire an employee just before he or she were to receive a benefit from becoming fully vested, then it may be considered a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing if it can be linked to discrimination based on being in a protected group.
If you think you have been wrongfully terminated, or if you are being threatened with termination in violation of the law, Villegas Carrera may be able to help you. We will review the circumstances of your termination to determine if there is any evidence of unlawful conduct. We will then clearly lay out the best options for seeking redress and develop a strategy that incorporates your goals and seeks to secure the best possible resolution to your situation.
To schedule a free initial consultation to review your claim, call 415-989-8000 or contact us online. Click here for frequently asked questions about wrongful termination.