If you can successfully prove that your employer wrongfully terminated you, you may be able to recover damages for your financial loss, future financial losses, punitive damages, and suffering. There are several key questions that must be answered to determine if you have a legitimate claim against your employer for wrongful termination:
1. Are you an “employee” under California law?
In California, only an employee can file a claim or lawsuit against their employer for wrongful termination. The definition of the word “employee” depends on the type of harm that the worker has alleged, however, in most cases, a worker will be considered an employee if they work under the supervision, direction, and control of an employer.
The biggest distinction that must be made is whether the employment relationship is one of an “employee” or “independent contractor.” An independent contractor is someone who provides a business with a specific product or service, but the business generally has no right to control the means by which that result is accomplished. The lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley have previously published articles that discuss ways to determine if a worker is an employee or independent contractor.
2. What was the reason for termination?
While you may be classified as an employee versus an independent contractor, you may be considered an “at-will” employee. That means you are free to leave your job at any time and your employer is free to fire you at any time for any lawful reason, or for no specific reason at all. Employment in California is presumed to be at-will, unless there is a specific contractual relationship in place between you and your employer that limits their ability to fire you. You can be a model employee and still be fired on whim. Even in that situation, you probably cannot claim that you were wrongfully terminated.
3. Was the Termination Based on an Unlawful Reason?
Employers don't need a good reason to terminate an at-will employee, however, employers are prohibited from terminating employees for unlawful reasons. Under law, a California employer may not fire an employee based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or some other protected classification. The employer may also not lawfully fire an employee for:
- Requesting an accommodation
- Taking time off for maternity and/or pregnancy leave
- Serving on jury duty
- Opposing to conduct unlawful activity
- Refusing to sign an unlawful non-compete clause
- Taking medical and/or family leave
- Refusing to enter an unsafe workplace
- Taking the time to vote for their political beliefs or affiliations
- Family or marital status
- Demanding lunch breaks, rest breaks, or overtime
- Reporting a violation of the law
4. What if employment was based on a contract?
Sometimes a firing isn't due to an unlawful reason but due to the ending of a contract. But what if the contract wasn't fully satisfied by the employer? If an employment contract has a specified term such as a certain amount of time and that contract is breached, a wrongful termination claim may be valid and should be heard by a wrongful termination attorney. An attorney can sort through the details and ensure the employ wasn't terminated for willfully or habitually breaching an employment duty or responsibility. Employment contracts don't have to be in writing, but should clearly specify a period of time and the duties of the job. Note: employees who are part of a union are usually not “at-will” employees and most often only face “for cause” terminations.
5. What other conditions could exist that constitute wrongful termination?
An implied contract between an employee and the employer can also prevent unjust firing. These can be informal implied contracts and will be up to the court to decide if such a condition existed. The court bases this decision on a variety of factors including the employer's policies, performance evaluations of the employee, promises of job security, and employee handbook. Tell your wrongful termination lawyer if you believe you have an implied contract with your employer.
“Constructive wrongful termination” is another form of wrongful termination. This is when an employee is driven to quit, rather than be fired because the working conditions are so horrible that he or she is essentially left with no option or forced out. The law states that if conditions or treatment is so severe that a reasonable person could not continue working in the environment any longer, then a worker may quit and can seek damages for the wages lost.
California Employment Lawyers
Should you have trouble answering any of the questions above, don't hesitate to contact an experienced wrongful termination lawyer. To discuss these employment laws, or a potential claim on your behalf, feel free to call us toll-free at (888) 500-8469 or click here to contact us via email.