Most employer-employee relationships in California are on an at-will basis, meaning either party can terminate the relationship for almost any reason, with or without cause.
However, wrongful termination occurs when employers fire workers for retaliatory reasons or unlawful motivations, such as discrimination.
Worker protections under California law
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it illegal to fire employees because of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, mental or physical disability, sex, marital status, pregnancy or sexual orientation.
When violations happen, workers should contact an experienced wrongful termination attorney who will thoroughly investigate why they were fired and help them recover damages.
Examples of wrongful termination
Those terminated for any of the above-protected classes likely have a strong case. For instance, employers cannot fire someone who:
- Files a workers’ compensation claim
- Requests time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a sick child or to see a doctor
- Gets pregnant
- Complains about unsafe working conditions
- Reports illegal activity within the workplace to police
- Serves on a jury
- Requests accommodations for a physical or mental disability
- Takes time off to vote
Protections also exist for “constructive termination,” such as when a person subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace quits to remove themselves from the hostile environment.
Holding employers accountable
Employers who violate California employment laws can face severe penalties. A wrongfully terminated worker can recover lost past and future wages and benefits, attorney fees and compensation for pain and suffering as well as other punitive damages.