If you have been terminated from your employment in the state of California, you may have been fired illegally. That is, you may be a victim of what the law calls “wrongful termination.” How can you know? First of all, it’s important to understand that most employment in California – unless you are employed under the terms of an employment contract – is what the law calls “at will” employment. That means that you stay at or resign from a job at your own will, and it also means that you are hired and fired at the employer’s will – with one important exception.

You can be terminated by your employer for any reason that is legal or even for no reason at all, but you cannot be fired in a way that violates the terms of an employment contract, and you cannot be fired for a reason that is illegal. If you’re fired while you’re working under a contract that guarantees job security, or if your employer made other written guarantees in a document that you can produce, your termination may be a wrongful termination, and you’ll need to seek the legal advice of an experienced San Francisco wrongful termination attorney.

An “implied” contract is trickier. If your employer made verbal promises regarding the length and security of your employment, that’s almost impossible to prove. But there is a type of “implied” contract if an employee manual specifies a series of progressive disciplinary measures that the employer imposes before terminating an employee. When any of those steps or measures are skipped or ignored, the fired employee may have grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

HOW CAN A WRONGFUL TERMINATION ATTORNEY HELP?

An experienced San Francisco wrongful termination attorney can review the particulars of your case, determine where you stand legally, and recommend the best course of action.

While an implied contract is usually quite difficult to prove, if you choose to bring a wrongful termination claim on the basis of an implied contract, a California court will consider factors that may include:

  • what promises may have been made when you were hired
  • any subsequent or continuing assurances of employment
  • the length of your employment
  • your promotions and performance reviews
  • whether the employer fired you while ignoring a typical or stated company policy – such as giving verbal warnings

An employment contact – in writing or implied – may give someone who has been fired legal grounds for a wrongful termination claim, but if you’re like millions of working people in California, your job isn’t governed by a contract, and you are entirely an at-will employee.

You have a number of employment rights under California law – and perhaps more legal protection than employees in any other state – and as mentioned previously, although you may be fired for any legal reason or for no reason at all, you may not be fired for an illegal reason.

WHAT REASONS FOR FIRING SOMEONE ARE CONSIDERED ILLEGAL?

What constitutes an illegal reason for firing an at-will employee in the state of California? You may not be terminated for any reason related to your race, gender, orientation, family or marital status, nationality, ethnicity, religion, disability, or pregnancy.

You cannot be fired because you ask for a disability accommodation, legal overtime pay, or legally-protected rest breaks or lunch breaks. Employers may not retaliate against employees for whistle-blowing, that is, for reporting or testifying about an employer’s specific crime or ongoing illegal practice.

You also may not be fired as an at-will employee in California for any of these reasons:

  • taking a legally-protected family, pregnancy, or medical leave
  • applying for worker’s compensation or filing for bankruptcy
  • taking time to vote or serving on a jury
  • refusing to enter a hazardous jobsite
  • refusing to sign a non-compete agreement

Discrimination in employment matters is illegal. If you know or believe that you have been terminated from your employment in California because of your race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, orientation, religion, age, disability, or pregnancy, you are a victim of wrongful termination.

You should discuss the details of your termination with an experienced San Francisco wrongful termination attorney. As a victim of wrongful termination, you may be entitled to reinstatement, compensation for your lost wages and your emotional suffering, and possibly more. You will certainly be entitled to justice.

WHAT IF AN EMPLOYER TRICKS OR DECEIVES SOMEONE?

In some rare cases, an employer’s behavior rises to the level of criminal fraud. Fraud is common in some industries in the recruiting process – with promises of big money that never materializes – and in the termination process, where employees are sometimes tricked, cajoled, or bullied into resigning.

However, in order to prove that a termination was wrongful because it was fraudulent, you would have to prove that the employer knowingly made a false representation that was intended to deceive, that you believed the false representation, and that you were fired because of your continuing belief in that false representation.

The hard part is proving that an employer committed fraud intentionally. An employer’s claim that “it was all a big misunderstanding” can sometimes be persuasive. To prove that an employer committed fraud that led to your wrongful termination, you’ll need a great deal of documentation regarding the precise content of any false representations and how, when, and to whom those false representations have been made.

If you have been fired illegally, and you can’t rapidly find other employment, you could soon be unable to meet your obligations and responsibilities due to someone else’s illegal behavior. That’s why it is imperative to speak with an experienced San Francisco wrongful termination attorney if you believe that you have been fired for a reason that is against the law. If it is genuinely a wrongful termination, it will not be tolerated in California, and the law will be on your side.

Employment attorneys in California have a number of strategies for challenging wrongful terminations. Typically, the first step is attempting to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the employer. An out-of-court settlement can save everyone who’s involved a great deal of time and money.

When the evidence of a wrongful termination is strong, an out-of-court negotiation is frequently successful. However, if the employer will not settle with you outside of the courtroom, your attorney may recommend taking the case to trial.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.