Losing one's job is a traumatic experience in life. Whether you have just been fired or laid off from your job because of company-wide cuts, it can be painful, stressful and humiliating, to say the least. Companies in California employ individuals "at-will." This means that they can terminate their workers' employment at any time without offering cause or explanation. This is true for workers as well. As an employee in California, you have the right to quit your job any time, and you don't have to offer a cause or explanation to your employer.
However, it is still illegal for an employer to fire an employee for a reason that is against the law. For example, employees cannot be fired or let go for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. If you have been terminated from your job for any reasons that are illegal or appear to be illegal, you may have been wrongfully terminated.
As a worker in California, you have certain rights. If you suspect hat you may have been illegally or wrongfully terminated, please contact an experienced wrongful termination lawyer who can provide you with the information necessary to pursue your legal rights.
Was Your Firing Illegal?
There are ways to tell if your firing or termination was unlawful. While we know that most employment is "at-will," there are certain critical exceptions to that at-will rule and there are legal remedies that might help you get reinstated or file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your former employer seeking damages. Here are a few questions to ask if you suspect your termination may have been wrongful. An experienced wrongful termination lawyer in Los Angeles will be able to answer these questions for you and help you determine whether you have a lawsuit.
Did you have a written contact? If you and your employer had a written contract or some other statement that promises you job security, you have a strong argument that you are not subject to the at-will employment rule. A written promise may come in different forms. For example, you may have an offer letter or some other written document, which details the terms of your employment, including promises about your continued employment. Or you may have an employment contract that specifically states that you can only be fired for reasons enumerated in the contract.
Some promises are written and others are implied. While it may be challenging to establish or prove what your employer may have implied, it is still possible to question a job termination based on verbal agreements. In such cases, courts will look at a number of factors including how long you were employed, whether you were regularly promoted, if you've had a history of positive performance reviews and whether promises of long-term employment were made when you were hired.
Did your employer act in bad faith? If your employer's actions were clearly unfair, you may have a claim for a breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing. Here are a few examples of cases where employers may have acted in bad faith:
- Terminating or transferring employees to stop them from earning sales commissions.
- Making up reasons for firing an employee when the actual motivation is to replace him or her with someone else who can be paid much less.
- Misleading employees about the possibility of promotions and salary hikes.
- Not clearly describing the job. For example, misleading employees about travel requirements, weekend assignments, etc.
- Repeatedly transferring employees to remote or undesirable assignments with the intent of forcing them to quit.
Did your employer violate public policy? It is against the law for an employer to violate public policy when they terminate a worker's employment. Under California law, it is illegal to fire workers for example, for taking time off work to serve on a jury; taking time off to vote; serving in the military; or blowing the whistle on the employer to report illegal or harmful activity. Some states like California also prohibit employers from firing workers because they exercised a legal right such as filing a workers' compensation claim for an injury sustained on the job or reporting a safety violation at work to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Did your employer discriminate against you?
Discriminating against the employee because of his or her race, color, gender, religion, age, national origin, disability, pregnancy or sexual orientation is illegal in California. If you have been discriminated against at work, you must file a complaint with a federal or state agency before you file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer in court.
Did your employer retaliate against you? The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who have engaged in certain activities that are protected under the law. An example of such an "activity" is when an employee files a complaint with a state or federal agency against your employer regarding harassment, discrimination or hostile work environment.
Did your employer commit fraud? In some rare and extreme cases, an employer's actions may rise to the level of fraud. This is commonly found in some cases where recruiters make and break false promises. In order to prove fraud, you must show evidence that your employer falsely represented the job, that they intended to mislead or deceive you, that you relied on their representation and that your belief harmed you financially or otherwise. The most challenging aspect of such cases is proving that the employer intentionally committed an act of fraud.
Did your employer defame you? Defamation is a serious issue and could have long-term consequences of employees who become victims. In some cases employers might make statements that case doubts on your integrity or ability to do your job. In such cases, you may be able to file a lawsuit claiming defamation. In order to prove defamation, you must show that the employer made a false statement about you knowing it was false; repeated that statement verbally or otherwise to at least one other person; and harmed you in the process, causing you to lose your job or preventing others from hiring you.
Why Do I Need a Wrongful Termination Lawyer?
If you have been wrongfully terminated, you need an employment attorney on your side who has a thorough knowledge of federal and state laws that protect workers against illegal actions by their employers. Succeeding in an employment lawsuit without the help of an attorney can be extremely challenging.
In addition to knowing about the laws and court procedures, an attorney will know the type of information that needs to be gathered in order to win your case, how to get that information, how to present witnesses and documents to the court and the jury, and how to prevent your employer and their attorneys from using strategies and tactics that are unfair in order to win the case. Without an attorney on your side fighting for your rights, you may be at a serious disadvantage.
There are certain situations in which it is crucial that you contact an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer right away. Here are a few examples of these critical situations:
- You are concerned about your treatment in the workplace and are questioning whether your termination or layoff was legal.
- You are considering quitting your job because of your employer's unfair or illegal treatment.
- You are unable to negotiate your severance pay with your employer.
- You are being pressured into signing a complex and lengthy release of claims that you don't fully understand.
- You are aware of other employees who wish to bring the same type of claim against your employer.
- You are not satisfied with a governmental agency's investigation or adjudication of your complaint.
- You have compelling evidence that your termination was wrongful and unlawful.
Steps to Take After a Wrongful Termination
The way in which one acts after getting fired can make a big difference in the outcome of a wrongful termination lawsuit. Here are a few steps that you would be well advised to take if you have just been wrongfully terminated.
Understand what constitutes wrongful or illegal termination. A wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee due to a discriminatory reason, blowing the whistle on illegal activity or reporting a safety violation. Federal and state laws protect employees from race, sex, age, religious, national origin, disability and sexual orientation discrimination. You also cannot be retaliated against for engaging in protected activity such as filing a complaint about your employer over harassment, discrimination or other types of misconduct.
Try to remain calm. A wrongful termination can be an extremely stressful and embarrassing experience. You may want to verbalize your thoughts or express your feelings and emotions to your employer. However, at this juncture, it is very important that you remain as calm and collected as possible.
Document everything. If you get fired, it is important that you document everything. Request a letter from your employer that clearly states the reason for the termination. It is also important to keep records of emails, conversations and work incidents that can help document harassment, discrimination and retaliatory behavior that led up to the wrongful termination.
Write out your version of the events. Write down as many details as you can remember leading up to the wrongful termination. Include specific quotes, people's names, dates, etc. This will help your attorney subpoena records, identify witnesses and conduct depositions when the time comes. It is a good idea to start writing your account as soon as possible because your memory could fade over time.
Stay away from social media. It would be in your best interest not to post any details of your wrongful termination on social media or anywhere online. Do not email or text anyone about it. In fact, it might be best to suspend your social media accounts until your case is resolved. Remember, anything you say on social media or post on social media can be used against you in court.
Retain the services of an experienced employment lawyer. Wrongful termination cases can be extremely complex. Employers have attorneys and other resources on their side. You need an experienced lawyer on your side who will help you compile the evidence, build your case, fight for your rights and look out for your best interest.
Damages in a Wrongful Termination Case
Wrongful termination cases are adjudicated in civil courts. So essentially, as a plaintiff, you are asking the court or jury to hold your former employer, the defendant, liable for the losses caused by your wrongful termination. Such compensation is known as "damages" in a wrongful termination case. There are several damages you can seek in a wrongful termination case:
Lost wages: You can seek the pay you've lost because you were fired. This can include the salary you would have received had your employer not fired you as well as any earned and unpaid wages, overtime or other compensation that you have not received. However, this amount may be reduced if you got hired after your termination by another employer for the same or higher rate of pay. If you got hired at a lower pay, you may seek the difference between what you used to earn and what you're getting paid at your new job.
Lost benefits: This includes medical, dental and vision insurance, pension or 401k plans, stock options and other benefits.
Emotional distress: This could be an element of damages in some cases where the employer has acted in a manner causing emotional harm and distress to the employee. This must typically be verified by a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist.
Punitive damages: These types of damages are usually awarded in cases where the employer's actions have been particularly egregious. Punitive damages are intended to punish the employer and deter similar behavior by other employers in the future.
If you believe you've been wrongfully terminated, please contact an experienced LA employment lawyer at Kingsley and Kingsley. We are passionate about the pursuit of justice for our clients. We will remain on your side, fight for your rights, help you hold your former employer accountable and secure fair compensation for your losses.