If you're wondering "do I need a wrongful termination attorney?", you probably do. Unfortunately, the nation's biggest employers regularly wrongfully terminated their employees, and when they do, those employees turn to us for help. Whether or not an employee can receive compensation for their unlawful firing depends upon the circumstances of each individual's case.
Wrongful Termination Laws You Should Know
In some states, including California, most employer/employee relationships are considered “at will”. An at-will employment means that the employer and/or the employee can stop the employment relationship for any reason, without or with cause. However, retaliatory reasons or unlawful motivation for termination is one exception for ending an at-will work relationship.
Under California law, an employer may not fire an employee based on:
- Race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or some other protected classification
- 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
- Family or marital status
- Demanding lunch breaks, rest breaks, or overtime
If an employment contract has a specified term (for instance a certain length, number of years, etc.) or certain conditions that are to be met and that contract is breached, (for example if the worker is fired before the specified conditions or terms are not met) this can give allowance to a claim and should be investigated by a wrongful termination attorney.
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 their employee handbook.
The Three Unjustified Dismissal Violations
There are three main reasons for termination that constitute violations of public policy:
- Refusing to violate a law: if an employer tells you to do something which you know to be against the law, and you refuse, you cannot be fired for refusing to break the law.
- Performing a legal obligation: if you are legally required to do something, your employer may not terminate or otherwise discipline you for obeying the law.
- Exercising a legal or constitutional right: if you have a legal right to engage in a certain type of activity (political association, free speech, etc.) your employer may not terminate or otherwise discipline you for engaging in that activity.
Unusual, but Important Illegal Firing Circumstances
“Constructive wrongful termination” or “wrongful constructive discharge” are forms of wrongful termination in the state of California. 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.
Finally, in California specifically, employees cannot be fired when the termination is based on a reason that is contrary to public policy. Wrongful termination in violation of public policy is originated as non-statutory, common law tort type of claim that limits California “at will” employment presumption.
How Much Is My Undeserved Firing Worth?
Headlines routinely spotlight up to millions of dollars employees have recovered in punitive damages from the employers who fired them in bad faith. However, there is no guarantee that an employee filing a lawsuit against an employer will receive this form of compensation. Several other possible outcomes include:
- Job reinstatement
- Back pay
- Compensation due to the stress and suffering as a result of job loss
- Company policy changes ordered by the court to prevent any future occurrences of wrongful termination
Further, the difference between a contract-based wrongful termination claim and a claim based on a violation of public policy is significant. Damage awards in retaliation and discrimination cases can include compensation for economic losses, as in an implied contract case, but they also can include compensation for emotional distress caused by the employer's acts, and punitive damages, if the employer has behaved with malice, fraud, or oppression.
Steps to File a Lawsuit
- Find your employment contract, if you have one. Review it and look for language about termination.
- Review your employee handbook, policy manuals, and other documentation that could indicate an implied contract between you and the employer. An implied contract could entitle you to notice or severance pay.
Document the details of your termination.
- Include dates of notifications – when, where, and how you were notified and by whom. Make sure to document everyone who was involved.
- Gather all paperwork and emails relating to the situation.
- Hire an experienced attorney to argue your case on your behalf.
Wrongful Termination Lawyers Here To Help
If you feel you have been a victim of an unjustified dismissal, you can rely on the wrongful termination lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley to evaluate your claim and give you the information you need to make informed decisions about your future.
You may have a lot of options available to you. We will help you evaluate those options.
Although you might have been let go illegally, your employer may not react without you filing with the help of an experienced termination attorney. When you file a wrongful termination lawsuit, the employer may want to settle out of court, which, if agreeable to you, would effectively end the lawsuit, or you might end up in court.
Other than a court, another method of seeking justice is to have the case arbitrated. In fact, if you have signed a mandatory arbitration agreement as part of your employment, you may be required to do this rather than court. Although an employment lawyer isn't necessary for arbitration, it is a good idea and is, in fact, the recommendation of the American Arbitration Association. Contact the wrongful termination attorneys at Kingsley and Kingsley Lawyers for a free consultation.