In California, employment is "at will," which means employers can terminate employees without giving cause or justification and employees can quit their jobs without providing cause or justification as well. But there are certain state, federal and local laws that prevent employers from firing employees under specific circumstances. For example, if you have been fired as retaliation for filing a complaint against your employer over harassment, retaliation, discrimination or some other illegal activity, that amounts to wrongful termination.
Our wrongful termination lawyers understand all too well, the challenges posed by these types of cases. Proving wrongful termination cases can be challenging. However, there are several steps you can take to bolster your case.
Importance of Gathering Documents
It is important that your employment status is clearly documented. In order to this, you will need a number of crucial employment documents including your personnel file, employment contract, employee handbook, workplace policies, job evaluations, paystubs, applicable emails, memos and termination notice, if it was provided in writing. An implied contract -- one where there is no written agreement, but an oral one – is acknowledged in California. Proving implied contracts may be challenging because they are not documented and the terms of the contract may not be specified.
Documentation of Events
When you are fired, it is important to write down everything including the events that led up to your termination. It is crucial that you do so in a timely fashion because the details and specifics may become muddled in your head over time. Write down specifics including an exact timeline of events. In most cases, there are other events that occur prior to the actual firing. Include the kind of performance reviews you received and the dates on which you got them. If you were fired after getting positive reviews, that is an indication that there were other factors that caused your termination. List all the parties involved. Write down their names, roles and titles. Write down who told you that you were being fired and who else was present in the room.
Were Any Laws Violated?
Wrongful termination by definition occurs when an employer illegally terminates an employee. There are several laws that prohibit an employer from firing an employee for engaging in "protected activities." Here are some examples of discriminatory and retaliatory action that constitutes wrongful termination:
- Age discrimination: Employees who are 40 or older are protected against discrimination because of their age. For example, it is illegal to fire someone who is older and more experienced, and replace him or her with a younger employee who is less experienced and cheaper.
- Hostile work environment: If an employee quits because he or she cannot tolerate an exceedingly hostile work environment, that is known as "constructive discharge." These could be some of the most challenging types of wrongful termination cases to prove. However, when an employee has detailed documentation that serves as evidence that a hostile work environment did exist, it gets a lot easier to prove wrongful termination.
- Disability and pregnancy discrimination: The law prohibits employers from firing workers who have physical or mental disabilities. They are required to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. Similarly, a woman cannot be fired because she is pregnant or is taking time off to care for her child.
- Gender and sexual orientation: If you were discriminated against because of your sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, you may have a wrongful termination case.
- Retaliation: There are many state and federal laws that protects the rights of whistleblowers, individuals who report fraud or wrongdoing on the part of their employers to the government. This might involve blowing the whistle on sexual harassment or an unsafe work environment. Employers for the most part cannot retaliate against employees for lodging valid complaints.
- Racial and religious discrimination: These types of claims are extremely common. It is against the law for employers to discriminate against employees based on race, color, nationality or religion. Employers are also required to make appropriate and reasonable religious accommodations.
Proving Protected Activity
In cases where you believe you were wrongfully terminated for reporting your employer, you need to show that your employer knew about your protected activity before firing you. For example, if you were fired after you complained to human resources about sexual harassment by your supervisor, you can show that you were terminated from your job after your employer found out about your protected activity, which in this case was filing a complaint with human resources.
In such cases, time is of the essence. When your employer fires you pretty quickly after learning you filed a complaint, it becomes less challenging to prove cause and effect. Any form of verbal harassment or criticism your employer made against you with regard to a protected activity can also be taken as evidence.
Employers often come up with all sorts of general and vague reasons for firing employees such as economic downturn, poor performance, losing a client, eliminating a position, etc. However, there are ways in which you could show that employees in similar positions as you were not fired and that there was another reason – an illegal one – that led to your termination.
Why You Should Contact an Attorney
Being fired from your job can be an extremely traumatic and humiliating experience, not to mention the anxiety that accompanies such an experience. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, it is crucial that you contact an attorney right away. Don't try to handle the case on your own because the legal system and the laws surrounding wrongful termination can be extremely complicated for someone without legal knowledge and experience to handle.
An experienced employment lawyer will be able to negotiate a higher settlement and most importantly, will be able to compile the evidence and documentation that is necessary to win your case or to obtain the best possible settlement. If you are considering filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, please contact our Los Angeles employment attorneys at Kingsley to find out how we can help you. We do not charge any fees unless we recover compensation for you. Call us today for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.