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What is wrongful termination?

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2023 | Wrongful Termination

Something that is certainly illegal in California is wrongful termination. Wrongful termination can be defined as an employee firing that was done in breach of contract or in violation of a specific law. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, you may have a case to make in a lawsuit. Below is what you should know about wrongful termination.

At-will employment

In most jurisdictions in the United States, the standard rule is for “at-will” employment. At-will, in this case, refers to the employer’s ability to fire employees for whatever reason they want within specific limits. The reasons for the firing do not need to be good or even fair. Under this system, an employer can fire an employee just because they don’t like their personality or for an even less serious reason.

The limits of at-will employment

At-will employment, however, has specific limits. First, a contract that the employee agreed to as a condition of employment cannot be broken by the firing. Second, the employee cannot be fired for a reason that violates the law. This includes firing someone because they belong to a protected class such as would be the case for their religion or ethnic background. Doing so is clearly wrongful termination.

Kinds of wrongful termination

While it is rare under the at-will employment standard, certain kinds of wrongful termination cases are still common. This includes cases regarding:

  • Workers’ compensation retaliation
  • Sexual harassment retaliation
  • Whistle-blower retaliation
  • Age discrimination
  • Racial discrimination

Retaliation against an employee taking a legally protected action is illegal. For example, federal law demands that employer’s provide workers’ compensation to employees. While workers’ comp claims may add some extra expense in regards to insurance premiums, an employer cannot use that as a reason for firing someone. Similarly, someone cannot be fired for being over 40 years old, and racial and sexual discrimination of any kind in the workplace is highly illegal.

While wrongful termination is illegal, the police are unlikely to investigate your firing as a crime. Instead, a wrongfully fired person should take civil action against their employer. In California, employer discrimination complaints should also be filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.