Can I Sue A Company For Wrongful Termination In California?

posted by Daniel Stevens  |  Mar 6, 2019 5:55 PM [EST]  |  applies to California



“We need to talk” is not just a terrifying phrase to hear from your significant other, it is also something you never want to hear from your boss.  No good can come from the phrase and if it is said to you at work, it most likely means trouble lies ahead, such as losing your job.  Hopefully, you never have to hear those four haunting words at work but if you do and you are fired, is that legal?  Do you even have the right legally to fight the decision in court? What if your boss just did not like you and fired you? Can your boss fire you without giving you a reason? How do you know if what your boss did was even allowed according to the law?  All of these questions are totally valid and should be asked! This was your job, your livelihood, your means of providing for yourself and perhaps others, and this could also negatively impact your career, so you need to ask these questions, but who do you ask?  Is it worth pursuing in court?  An Employment Attorney is the type of legal professional who would be able to provide the most educated opinion for these common questions regarding your termination. When and if you do need these questions answered, keep the following information in mind.


Throughout America, every state varies on their laws, especially the laws that regulate employment. As an employee or applicant, it is important to know the laws that your state in particular enforces. This is because a situation may arise at work where you might have been treated adversely and depending on the state, you could potentially recover.


In California, employees are called “at-will” employees. What in the world does that even mean though?  “At-will” means that if you are an employee in the State of California, your boss or employer can decide at their own will to boot you out of your job for any reason or even for no reason at all. So your boss could basically walk into your office today and say “Hey, I’ve decided you just absolutely repulse me and the sight of your face makes me want to gouge my eyes out.  You’re fired!”, and it could technically be legal. It is not likely that someone would actually be so blunt and fire you for repulsing them, but technically there are no laws that prohibit the action or behavior unless it is motivated by a protected class or activity.  Some may argue that the flip-side to at-will employment for the employee is that unlike other states, the employee is not required to give a two-week notice of resignation. The employee can quit without notice, for any reason or no reason at all and not be sued by the employer.


At first glance, it seems pretty crappy to be an employee in California but that’s not the whole story.  As an at-will employee can you really be fired for any reason?  Like every good lawyer will tell you, the answer is: “well it depends”. The circumstances that surrounded the termination are essential and may lead to the exception to at-will employment.  Although an at-will employee can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, they cannot be fired for an illegal reason. This means an employer cannot fire an employee based on belonging to a protected class such as race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition, military status, marital status and so forth. Another reason that may be considered as illegal would be retaliation for making a complaint regarding unlawful issues at work. Depending on the facts of the situation, even being fired for refusing to consent to a lie detector test could be considered as wrongful termination. One other example of being fired for an illegal reason would be in retaliation for filing a complaint, testifying in legal proceedings, or even for reporting abuse.  There are many ways in which an employee could be fired for an illegal reason that you may have had no idea existed.


What is considered an “illegal reason” can be very complex so it is essential to provide to an Employment Attorney all of the facts that lead up to your termination and even any details you can provide for what happened after.  Important details may include but are not limited to who your employer replaced you with, whether you made any complaints verbally or in writing about adverse treatment, for how long you were employed for, and perhaps were any comments made to you leading up to your termination.


For example, let’s take the previous example from the rather blunt boss who fires you because he basically just hates the sight of you. If prior to this happening your boss asked you out on a date and you turned him down, his actions in terminating you may have been illegal.  This is where the circumstances are key. This might be considered wrongful termination because you were fired for an illegal reason which in this case could be quid pro quo sexual harassment and/ or retaliation. Another example would be if you are Hispanic and your boss did the same thing to several other Hispanic employees, and in fact, only fired Hispanic employees and only hired non-Hispanic employees.  Again these surrounding circumstances may constitute wrongful termination, which in this case may be a race discrimination claim.  


                So can you sue a company for wrongful termination in California? Taking all the information provided above, the answer remains “well it depends”, which is better than “no”.  Every case is different and requires careful consideration from an Employment Attorney. An Employment Attorney has specific expertise in the complex and forever evolving employment laws in California. The good news is that if you are told “we need to talk” by your boss, you do have certain rights and they can be enforced or you may recover if those rights were violated. If you do decide to call an Employment Lawyer regarding a potential wrongful termination claim, be sure to contact a law firm that offers free consultations.


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