Imagine your spouse needs surgery, and you request time off work to care for them as they recover. Instead of granting your request, you get fired for “not being a team player.”
Imagine you receive a cancer diagnosis and must take one day off work each week to attend and recover from chemotherapy. You get the time off, but your employer later fires you for not meeting the same productivity standards as your coworkers, who are healthy and working five days a week.
These situations and untold others are examples of being fired for taking protected leave. Not only is it unjust and harmful to fire someone caring for their family, but it’s also illegal in most situations in California. It’s considered retaliation for a protected action and grounds for a lawsuit.
While retaliating against an employee for protected actions is illegal, it occurs too often. If you’ve been fired for taking protected leave, you have the right to hold your employer accountable. Here’s what you need to know about when your employer can fire you, what counts as retaliation, and your rights after you’ve been wrongfully terminated.
Can You Be Fired for Taking Leave?
California offers some of the broadest protected leave in the US. Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), companies with five or more employees must grant eligible workers 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave if they meet certain conditions, including:
- They have performed at least one year of work with the employer.
- They have done at least 1,250 hours of work for their employer in the past year.
- Their leave request is for their own serious medical condition, to care for a designated person with a severe health condition, or to bond with a new child.
If these conditions are met, an employer must grant the worker up to 12 weeks of time off and cannot retaliate against them for requesting or taking the time off.
However, leave is not protected if a worker doesn’t meet these criteria. In that case, an employer can fire the worker for any reason permitted in their employment contract.
What Counts as a Retaliatory Termination?
California is an at-will state, meaning employers and employees can choose to end their working relationship for any reason at any time. The only exceptions are for protected activities and characteristics. Employers cannot terminate an employee for features like their race or gender or for engaging in protected activities like:
- Requesting or taking CFRA leave
- Requesting accommodations for a disability, pregnancy, or religious belief
- Attending or refusing to participate in religious services
- Filing complaints about discriminatory behavior
- Resisting harassment or assault
- Reporting illegal activities (“whistleblowing”) to supervisors or regulatory agencies
- Refusing to perform illegal or discriminatory actions
If you do anything listed above and your employer fires you because of it, that is considered retaliation.
Your Rights After Wrongful Termination in California
If you’ve lost your job due to retaliation, that is considered wrongful termination. California grants victims of wrongful termination several options to hold their employers accountable for violating their rights. Here’s what you can expect after you’re wrongfully fired.
Standard Post-Termination Rights
No matter why you were fired, you have the same post-termination rights as any other worker. These include:
- Receiving your final paycheck immediately.
- Having any unused vacation or paid time off days paid out in your last paycheck.
- Receiving notice or severance pay if required by your employment contract.
- Being reported as terminated to make you eligible for unemployment compensation.
- Retaining your health insurance coverage if your employer has 20 or more employees.
These legal requirements are intended to make losing your job less devastating. While they don’t make up for wrongful termination, they provide more stability as you determine your options.
Right to Sue
If you have been wrongfully terminated, you likely have the right to file a claim against them. This could be a claim filed with the Labor Commissioner, or it could be a lawsuit. In some cases, you may begin by filing a complaint, then proceed to sue your employer. Either way, you can talk to a California employment law attorney to discuss your best course of action.
Right to Reinstatement, Backpay, and Damages
A claim or lawsuit aims to correct the injustice you’ve suffered. While the court can’t go back in time and prevent you from losing your job, it can award you damages for the losses you’ve suffered. Potential damages include:
- Reinstatement to your old job or a position that is substantially similar
- Backpay for the time you did not have a job
- Compensation for the benefits you lost when you were fired, such as health insurance and 401(k) contributions
- Compensation for your pain and suffering, including a damaged reputation and emotional distress
- Attorneys’ fees to cover the cost of fighting for your rights
- Punitive damages if your dismissal was particularly egregious
These damages aren’t guaranteed. However, if the court agrees that you were wrongfully terminated, the damages awarded can go a long way to helping you get back on your feet after losing your job.
Discuss Your Termination With Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP
If you were fired because you needed medical leave, it might be an example of retaliation. If so, you can hold your employer accountable for violating your rights. The first step is to talk to the experienced employment law attorneys at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP to determine whether you have a strong case. Our team is dedicated to advocating for California workers who have suffered wrongful termination, retaliation, and other rights violations by their employers. Learn more about how we can help you by scheduling your consultation today.