Have you been fired for standing up for your rights at work? Were you let go during a layoff targeting only people over 40? Were you forced to resign after making a whistleblower report? If any of these issues sound familiar, you may have experienced wrongful termination.
However, wrongful terminations can be difficult to prove. Before filing a claim, you must understand when a dismissal is unlawful. Below, we’ve broken down elements of wrongful termination into a simple checklist to help you determine if it’s time to talk to an employment lawyer about your claim.
Understanding Wrongful Termination
California is an at-will employment state, meaning employers and employees can end a working relationship for almost any reason. However, that’s a big “almost.” Laws like the Civil Rights Act (CRA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) all bar employers from firing workers for certain reasons.
These laws define protected activities and characteristics that cannot be considered when making “adverse employment” actions like firing or demoting someone. If someone is fired for a protected reason, it is wrongful termination.
Some of the most common examples include firing people for:
- Whistleblowing retaliation: Reporting illegal activity or regulatory violations is a protected activity. If your employer fires you because of it, that is unlawful.
- Disability accommodations: As long as you can do your job with reasonable accommodations, your health or disability cannot be used to make employment decisions.
- Gender, racial, or religious bias: Firing someone because of their race, gender, religion, or another protected characteristic defined under FEHA is unlawful in California.
Additionally, if you have an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement that sets terms for termination, your employer must follow them. If they did not, such as by firing you without notice or for a reason prohibited in the contract, that is another form of unlawful dismissal.
Potential Remedies for Wrongful Terminations
If you have been wrongfully terminated, you may have the right to receive compensation from your employer. Potential remedies include:
- Reinstatement of employment
- Compensation for lost wages and benefits
- Damages for emotional distress or reputational harm
In other words, you could get your job back as well as back pay, benefits, and additional compensation for the stress and hassle of filing a lawsuit.
The Three-Point Checklist for Wrongful Termination Issues
Before you can file a claim, you should be certain that your case meets the requirements for wrongful dismissal under federal or state laws. The following three-point checklist can help you determine if you might qualify.
1. Did You Lose Employment?
A wrongful discharge case requires you to have lost your job. Typically, this means that you were fired or laid off. However, it can also include being forced to quit.
This is known as “constructive dismissal.” It occurs when your employer makes your working conditions hostile, specifically to convince you to quit instead of firing you.
You do not have a wrongful termination case if you still work for the company. You may be able to file a discrimination or retaliation claim instead.
2. Did You Experience Previous Discrimination, Harassment, or Retaliatory Actions?
Because California is an at-will state, you need to prove that you were fired for an unlawful reason to have a case. If you have an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement, proving this may be simple. However, the situation is more difficult if you believe you were fired for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons.
The best way to prove it is by showing that your employer has a history of discriminating against workers. This can include:
- Policies that only apply to certain genders or races
- A history of HR complaints about a manager’s inappropriate behavior
- A trend of giving certain groups of people worse performance evaluations
- Communications warning you not to report unlawful activity
In short, you should have strong evidence that suggests you were fired for a protected activity or trait to make a successful claim.
3. Can You Disprove Your Employer’s Reason for Your Dismissal?
By definition, wrongful termination only occurs when it is prompted by a protected trait or activity or violates a contract. Even if you can prove you experienced harassment or discrimination at work, you still need to prove that it was the reason for your termination. Good evidence for this includes:
- A history of positive performance reviews
- Strong results and achievements at work
- Positive feedback from customers
- Testimony from your colleagues about your behavior and abilities
These details help demonstrate that you performed well and can contradict your employer’s narrative about your termination.
Steps to Take if You Suspect Wrongful Termination
If you can answer “yes” to the three checklist questions above, you may have been unlawfully dismissed. If you want to hold your employer accountable for harming you, here’s what to do next:
- Documenting evidence of termination: Save as much information about your final days and weeks at your job as possible. This evidence includes more than just your employment contract and termination notice. Collect emails with discriminatory language, save texts or voicemails threatening you with retaliation, and get copies of performance reviews if you can.
- Seeking legal advice from an experienced lawyer: With this information, talk to a skilled wrongful termination lawyer in California. They will listen to your concerns and advise whether you have a worthwhile claim.
- Reviewing employment contracts and policies: If your lawyer agrees you have a case, you will examine your evidence carefully. Your attorney will use this information to build your case and help you achieve the best possible outcome.
If you think you’ve been wrongfully terminated in San Francisco, you should talk to the experts at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP. We can help you understand what counts as wrongful termination in California and help you pursue justice. Schedule your consultation today to take the first step toward holding your employer accountable for its actions.