Being terminated from a job affects you both emotionally and physically. If you are one of the many who associate an occupation to your identity, you might be feeling unsure of who you are now, and perhaps experiencing a sense you've lost your identity. Because of these intense emotions, it can be said, losing a job by getting terminated will mirror the grief experienced when losing someone you love. During this emotional time, you will be going through a whirlwind of emotions such as anxiety, sadness, shock, and even denial. What can make this whole process even more terrible is finding out you have been wrongfully terminated. This knowledge brings another emotion- anger, and you need to know your legal rights and know what you can do about being wrongfully terminated.
How to Determine if Termination was Legal or Wrongful
To determine if you have been legally or wrongfully terminated can be tricky as much employment is considered ‘at will.’ ‘At will,’ means your employer can fire you for any reason at any time as long as the reason is not illegal. There are times an employment contract is in place that states you can only be fired for a good cause or specific reasons outlined in the agreement. If this is your situation, and you’ve been terminated for a reason not listed, you may have reasonable grounds for fighting this termination.
Many times during the hiring process, you are given an offer letter or another form of a written agreement that makes a promise to you for continued employment. If you have such an agreement, you have a great chance of enforcing those promises in court. There are other situations involving an employer and their hiring practice, which include implied promises. The implied promise is an agreement based on things your employer did or said and is considered an exception to the employment rule of ‘at will.’ If you go to court for being wrongfully terminated and are using the implied promise rule; these are some of the factors the court will look at:
- Your history of positive performance reviews
- Whether you were given a promise for long-term when you were hired
- How long you have been on the job
- How many or how regular you received job promotions while on the job
- What the assurances were that you would have continued employment
- If your employer violated a usual employment practice when they fired you, such as not giving you any warnings
An implied promise is difficult to prove as most times; employers are careful not to make promises of continued employment. There have been instances found where an employer has promised ‘permanent employment’ which allows you to take the matter to court. It could help your case if you are using the ‘implied promise’ rule, to have the backing from another employee who overheard the promise or other employees who were given the same promise when hired. This evidence could establish precedence in your employer’s hiring practice and help your case before the judge.
Unfair Actions by Your Employer
You might be able to file a claim for breach of duty or breach of good and fair dealing if your employer has acted unfairly towards you. The courts will consider these behaviors as a breach of fair dealing and good faith:
- If your employer mislead you about your chances to wage increases or promotions
- Your employer created reasons for firing you that do not exist so that they were able to fill your position with someone who would do the work for lower pay
- If your employer sent you into dangerous, remote, or undesirable assignments to try and encourage you to quit so, they would get out of paying severance pay or other benefits you should be entitled to
- If your employer wasn’t entirely honest with you about your duties and any danger attached to them such as making deliveries into dangerous neighborhoods
- If your employer is firing you to avoid having to pay earned commissions
When the court accepts a claim for breaking of ‘good faith or fair dealing,’ they may require you provide a valid employment contract. Most courts will not recognize the ‘good faith or fair dealing’ an exception to the ‘at will’ employment rule.
It is Considered Wrongful Termination if Public Policy is Violated
You might have suffered from wrongful termination if your employer violated public policy. This violation would be something society looks at as illegitimate grounds for firing you. This termination is a serious offense, and you can take your employer to court, but you will first have to show there was a specific law that defines the policy they violated. This proof can be found in the federal and state laws that specify employment-related actions which would clearly show the court that a violation occurred. These firing situations clearly define your employer violated public policy and that you were wrongfully terminated:
- You were fired because of time you took off to serve on a jury
- They fired you to avoid paying commissions you earned or did not want to pay for earned vacation time
- You were fired for taking time off from your job to vote
- You were terminated for notifying the authorities about illegal operations occurring at your workplace (whistle-blowing)
- They wrongfully terminated you because you left to serve in the National Guard
There are a few other violations of public policy such as terminating you because you are a volunteer firefighter and left work to perform service under these duties, or you are an election officer and needed time off during a current election. You also cannot be terminated if you take time off work to take advantage of a legal remedy or legal right such as filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim.
Discrimination is Wrongful Termination
Discrimination is illegal. If you suspect your termination was because of your religion, race, national origin, color, gender, age, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy, you have been wrongfully terminated. Discrimination puts you in a position to hire an attorney and file a discrimination claim. Strict time limits are in place for filing these cases, so make sure you contact Stop Unpaid Wages as soon as possible to discuss your options.
There has been much progress made over the years, but unfortunately, human nature still makes discrimination a reality in the workplace. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) enforces anti-discrimination laws but states there are still more than 90,000 complaints filed in a year claiming discrimination in the workplace. All states prohibit employers from treating their employees differently, and if you’ve been terminated because of your marital status, sexual orientation, genetic information, age, skin color, citizenship status, disability, national origin, race, pregnancy, or age, you need a legal counsel to protect your rights.
You could try talking to your employer and attempt settling with them through informal negotiations. An attorney can help you with deciding if informal proceedings are your best option or if you should pursue more formal avenues. It helps to have an attorney present when you talk with your employer as they are more likely to take you seriously if your attorney is present during the informal negotiations.
Your lawyer may even suggest contacting your employer to discuss your case and find out if they are interested in settling the matter before it is sent in front of the courts. Another option is to have your attorney send a ‘demand letter’ that will outline your claims and suggest an initial settlement. These situations usually end up going back and forth between your attorney and your employer’s attorney several times before an agreement is reached, but the process does keep the matter out of the courts.
Harassment Can Result in Wrongful Termination
The law not only protects you from being discriminated in the workplace, but it also protects you against being harassed at your place of employment. If you are receiving offensive remarks about your gender, race, or any personal aspect of yourself, it is considered harassment and it is illegal. You can consider filing for wrongful termination if you’ve experienced any of these hostile situations at your workplace:
- Any superior has made offensive or insulting comments in regards to your disability, genetic information, religion, race, color, national origin, sexuality, age, or gender
- If you had been personally involved with someone in management and when the relationship ended, you were harassed or treated negatively
- Were any of the negative comments being said made in front of others regularly
- Was there any form of sexual harassment such as unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, or did someone in management seek to establish a romantic or sexual relationship in exchange for work benefits
When comments and gestures go beyond what is reasonably considered teasing or these actions create a hostile environment for you at work, you are being harassed and have the grounds for filing a lawsuit.
Retaliation is Wrongful Termination
Your employer cannot terminate your work position just because you’ve engaged in a legally protected activity. If you feel you have lost your job because your employer is retaliating against a legal action you performed, you can file a claim against them, but must prove:
- The activity you were engaged in was what prompted your employer to terminate your position- an example would be if after your employer learned you filed a sexual harassment claim, they fired you
- If after your employer found out you filed a complaint with EEOC regarding discrimination or workplace harassment, you were fired
- If you have experienced adverse consequences from your employer such as being fired, denied a promotion or received negative performance reviews that were not warranted
Most people are aware there are laws in place to protect them from harassment and discrimination in the workplace, but many do not know there are also laws to protect them against retaliation from their employers. It is wrongful termination if your employer fires you for making harassment or discrimination complaints or if you participate in an investigation being conducted at your workplace. Not only are they not allowed to terminate your employment, but they also cannot enforce any form of punishment against you such as denying you a promotion, not giving you a raise, not allowing you to transfer, or any other adverse employment action.
There are the obvious forms of retaliation from your employers such as demotions, salary reduction, job or shift reassignment, but there are also more subtle actions, and you may be unclear whether or not the action is in fact retaliation. The Supreme Court of the United States says you have to consider the circumstances surrounding the situation. If you’ve experienced a job or shift change shortly after the information was out about your activities, and it’s a change your employer knows is not to your advantage, this would be retaliation. As long as you can prove your employer’s actions have an adverse effect on your employment that would deter a reasonable person, you have the right to file a claim for wrongful termination.
Fraud is Considered Wrongful Termination
A fraud case is rare and extreme when talking about wrongful terminations, but it is possible, so we’ll discuss those situations as well. An employer can become angry and so devious that they rise to the level of fraud (misrepresenting facts). Fraud is more common in the recruiting process when they promise all kinds of actions and outcomes that are later broken, and it sometimes occurs in the final stages of your work career when you receive false promises to retire.
When you go to court for wrongful termination due to fraud, you will be required to show proof:
- Your employer gave you a false representation
- You can prove your employer deliberately deceived you
- By you believing in the representation presented, you were physically harmed
- Others or another party in the business knew the representation was misleading you
Fraud is difficult to prove because you have to prove your employer’s actions were terrible and done on purpose to intentionally trick you. Proper documentation is needed with these cases, so you can show the court whom, when, how, and by what means your employer falsely represented the job position.
Your Reputation Was Tarnished
Defamation is a lawsuit you can file if your reputation in your community became tarnished as a result of wrongful termination. The lawsuit is intended to protect your good standing, and reputation, and you will want strong legal counsel to help you through this case. If your status is not protected, you will find it challenging to find new employment, so this is an area you want to ensure does not impact your future negatively.
When you file a lawsuit for defamation and wrongful termination, you must prove:
- Your employer has made malicious statements regarding you personally and professionally
- Your employer has made false statements about your job performance which are going to impact your future chance of employment negatively
- Your employer has said or written these false or malicious statements to at least one other person
- The invalid or spiteful comments have resulted in you losing a job or prevented you from obtaining new work
Defamation is not just petty words exchanged with others around the break table; it has to be factual information that has been twisted into false statements. The law surrounding defamation tries to balance competing interests. People should not be able to ruin other’s lives by spreading lies regarding their personal or professional conduct, and on the other hand, people should be allowed to speak freely without fear of litigation. The law of defamation varies from state to state, but if you feel you are the victim of defamation, there are laws to protect your rights.
Whistle-Blowing and Retaliation are Similiar Wrongful Terminations
Whistleblowers are proven to be essential in our society. Because of their importance, laws have been put into place to protect those that ‘blow the whistle’ on unsafe and illegal operations in the workplace. California has regulations in place prohibiting any retaliation against a whistleblower who:
- Reported suspected criminal activity in their workplace to a law or government enforcement agency
- Reported an alleged violation of a regulation or law to their management or to someone with authority to investigate actions
- As a public employee reported economical, incompetent, inefficient, or wasteful activity to the Auditor of California
- As any type of employee reported violations of California wage/hour law or any other labor law violation to the Labor Commissioner
While repercussions in the workplace from being a whistle-blower looks a lot like retaliation in general, those carried out because you are a whistle-blower are handled with more attention. The NWC (National Whistleblower Center) is an agency set up to protect the rights of individuals who report wrongdoing without the fear of suffering any form of retaliation. This center is a tax-exempt, non-profit, non-partisan organization with more than thirty years of experience in protecting your rights if you blow the whistle on illegal or unsafe operations in your workplace.
Contact an Employment Attorney Near Me
Having a job can be many things. You may enjoy your work and look forward to returning to it each day, or it may just be a means of earning money to live and survive. Whatever your feelings are about your job, you deserve respect and the ability to continue working as long as you fulfill your obligations. You should not have to experience the loss of your employment due to vengeful or illegal actions from your employer. Once you have been accepted as an employee, and as long as you perform your duties correctly, it is your right to remain employed. If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated in California, call our Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney at 424-781-8411 today!