As an adult living and working in an at-will employment state, such as California, you may have experienced getting fired from a job or know someone who has. Because of the state’s at-will employment status, either the employee or the employer can choose to end the working relationship at any time and for almost any reason, but there are some reasons for firing that are against state or federal laws.
Read on for more information about wrongful termination in San Diego, including what it is and what you should do if you think that you have been wrongfully terminated from your job. Contact our San Diego wrongful termination attorneys for more information.
What Is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful termination, in simple terms, is the termination of someone’s employment contrary to contract or public laws. Sometimes, an employer and an employee enter into an employment contract in which the terms of the employee’s employment, as well as the causes for terminating that employment, are spelled out.
However, in California, the employment status defaults to at-will employment if there is no employment contract in place. At-will employment means that either party can end the working relationship for any reason, provided the employee is not within a protected class. The termination of someone in that protected class who is also an at-will employee is the source of most wrongful termination lawsuits.
Guaranteed reasonable accommodations if the worker is disabled due to pregnancy or the job causes an undue risk to the worker or her unborn child, as long as the employer has more than five employees.
Guaranteed leave for specific circumstances, including the birth or adoption of a child, a worker’s serious health condition, or a worker’s need to care for a parent, spouse, or child with a serious health condition, as long as the workplace has at least 50 employees.
Protection from discrimination, including termination due to sex, race, or membership in another protected class of workers. Workers are protected on the basis of religion; gender-related conditions, such as pregnancy or breastfeeding; gender identity or gender expression; sexual orientation; medical status; medical condition, including genetic disorders, cancer, or a history of cancer; military or veteran status; nation of origin; ancestry; mental or physical disability; those requesting family leave or leave to deal with their own serious medical condition or that of a family member; age over 40; and criminal history.
Protection from termination due to complaining to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, participating in an investigation led by that Department, or protesting an employer’s violation of state or federal labor laws.
Protection from termination due to certain disabilities and an employer’s failure to provide reasonable accommodations for those disabilities.
The laws governing workplace discrimination provide protections for employees. Independent contractors, on the other hand, are not afforded all of the aforementioned protections and are generally not permitted to file wrongful termination claims. However, the state recently expanded the definition of employee to prevent workers from being deprived of the protections and benefits afforded to employees.
To prove that an individual is an independent contractor, the employer must show:
It has no control over how the individual performs his or her work.
The individual is providing a service that is outside the scope of the company’s usual business.
The individual regularly engages in an established business, trade, or profession that is separate from the employer’s business.
Types of Wrongful Termination Claims
There are many different types of wrongful termination claims. Here is a look at some of the most common:
Breach of contract: This is the type of wrongful termination claim that contractual employees should make. If an employment contract spells out specific causes of termination, and the employee is fired for something other than a listed cause or is terminated before the full duration of the contract, he or she can seek relief through a wrongful termination claim.
Mixed motive termination: Sometimes, an employer will fire an at-will employee for “cause” when the real motivating factor for termination was discrimination against an employee’s race, sexual orientation, or other protected class. If the employee can prove that his or her protected status was a significant factor in the termination, he or she can obtain relief through a wrongful termination claim, including back pay, damages, and reinstatement.
Constructive discharge: When an employer makes the conditions of a workplace so intolerable to an employee that he or she has no other recourse than to resign, this is another form of wrongful termination. To prevail in such a claim, an employee must prove that the conditions were not only unusually intolerable, but also that the employer either intended for the employer to resign or had knowledge of the intolerable conditions and refused to address them. Some examples of workplace conditions that could result in a constructive discharge claim include the following: your employer unjustifiably cut your hours or decreased your pay, or the employer forced you to quit due to mistreatment. It should be noted that by resigning due to unreasonable working conditions, rather than being fired, can result in the loss of certain protections afforded to terminated employees, such as unemployment benefits, and the right to file a wrongful termination claim against your employer.
Termination based on discrimination: California’s anti-discrimination laws are among the strongest in the nation, extending protections for even more classes of individuals than the federal government’s laws protect.
Termination based on harassment or retaliation: In California, it is illegal to terminate employment based on an employee’s decision to report illegal activities, file a workers’ compensation claim, file complaints regarding the safety of the workplace, report violations to the state’s labor code, such as the failure to provide employee breaks, mealtimes, and overtime as required by law.
Termination based on sexual harassment: The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”
Termination based on violations to the California Family Rights Act: This act requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to employees for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for one’s self or family member who is suffering from a serious medical condition. Sick leave is also provided to employees, with the ability to accrue and use up to three days of leave each year. Sick leave is bankable from one year to the next, with no more than 6 days of accrued sick leave being used per year. Sick leave may be used for the diagnosis, care, and treatment of an employee or his or her covered family members’ medical conditions, to obtain primary care. Employees who are survivors of domestic violence and need to seek legal, medical, or social services may also use sick leave.
If You Were Wrongfully Terminated by a San Diego Employer, Call Us
What should you do if a San Diego employer wrongfully terminated you? Take these recommended steps:
As soon as possible after your termination, begin gathering information that will serve as evidence when you file your claim. It is important to do this quickly, as you likely won’t be permitted to be at the workplace after you leave. Some of the information you need to collect includes the name and contact information for the individual who made the decision to terminate your employment and the stated reason for the termination; you should also gather the names and contact information of coworkers or others who witnessed how the events transpired. You should also collect any documents, such as emails, files, or text messages, that can assist in proving that the termination was wrongful.
Seek legal advice from Gomez Trial Attorneys. Our experienced employment lawyers will generally listen to the details of your experience for free and explain your legal options for remedy under the state’s employment and civil rights laws. Some of the evidence that your attorney will consider when evaluating your case includes your employment application, the employee handbook, any contract you entered into with the employer regarding your employment, your official job description, documentation of pre-employment screening, your resume, payroll records, and coworkers who have specific information about your working situation.
File your notice with either the federal or state authorities. With federal discrimination claims, you need to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before the case is filed in federal court. The Charge of Discrimination must be filed within 180 days of the wrongful termination, with this time limit being extended to 300 days if the state has a law prohibiting discrimination on the same basis. If you wish to file your discrimination claim in California, you must file a Notice of the Right to Sue with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one year of the wrongful termination.
If you have filed a complaint with the state, the department will decide to investigate the case. If the department does not investigate your case, you are free to file a lawsuit in a state civil court or pursue the matter federally. If the department investigates your case, you may enter dispute resolution services with the employer. You do not obtain a resolution in your case, the department may file a wrongful termination lawsuit on your behalf.
Within a year of filing the Notice of the Right to Sue, you can file a wrongful termination lawsuit in court. If the department has not agreed to investigate the case, it will not forward your information to the federal agency and will not provide a representative for you at the state trial.
Damages in Wrongful Termination Cases
Wrongful termination is a civil tort, meaning that claimants file their lawsuits in civil courts, seeking to recover damages from the liable parties. Economic and non-economic damages are available for recovery in wrongful termination cases. Economic damages refer to out-of-pocket expenses incurred by claimants as a result of the wrongful terminations.
Those damages include:
Lost wages as a result of the termination
Loss of benefits that the employee received as a matter of employment
Reinstatement, if there is an opportunity for the employee to return to the workplace. If the employee is reinstated, he or she will retain the same seniority upon returning to the workplace as before the termination.
Loss of future wages if reinstatement is not an option. Oftentimes, reinstatement is not an available remedy due to hostility between the employer and the employee due to the termination and wrongful termination proceedings. Instead of reinstatement, the employer must pay the amount that the employee would have earned until he or she found a new job.
In addition to economic damages, the employee can also claim non-economic damages. Non-economic damages relate to the emotional impacts that a wrongful termination has on an employee’s life. Examples of non-economic damages include, but are not limited to, emotional distress and loss of professional reputation.
The majority of wrongful termination claims settle out of court, which saves the employer from paying the costs of litigation.
Let Gomez Trial Attorneys’ San Diego Wrongful Termination Lawyers Help You
Losing your job is a stressful situation, even more so if you were wrongfully terminated. Because California allows employers to terminate working relationships at will—without a warning, without a reason given, and without a hearing in which the employee has the opportunity to appeal the decision—cases of wrongful termination often entail complex legal issues.
At Gomez Trial Attorneys, we have experience handling wrongful termination cases and are happy to guide our clients through the legal process. Let us help you understand wrongful termination and determine the best way forward given all of your options. For a free case evaluation, contact us online or by calling (619) 237-3490.
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