Updated on April 19th, 2023

10 Ways to Get a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit in California

An employee’s wrongful termination lawsuit against an employer may result in millions of dollars. Employers and employees should be educated that there are ten easy ways an employer can wrongfully terminate an employee.

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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In the state of California, wrongful termination occurs when employees are terminated for reasons that are then deemed illegal. If and when this happens, a worker can file a lawsuit against their employer in order to recover damages such as lost wages. Many employees simply are unaware that they are able to sue their employers or former employers in this way. If an individual feels that they were fired for illegal reasons, they must contact a licensed attorney immediately. At Nakase Wade, our California employment lawyers will work diligently to help you recover from wrongful termination when it occurs.

Here, we will go over the most common and relevant situations regarding wrongful termination in California. Our hope is that this list is helpful as you begin to figure out the details of your own situation, but always remember that we offer free consultations and can explain these details in person. In a general sense, it is essential to remember that in California, wrongful termination is illegal, and no employee should be forced to deal with it.

1) Sexual Harassment: Complaints and Retaliation

Sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace is illegal. Harassment in this form is a type of discrimination that is fully prohibited in California. Therefore, employers in California are required to provide an office or work environment that is completely free of all forms of sexual harassment.

This means that if your employer terminates your employment for reasons such as initiating a sexual harassment investigation, complaining, or reporting sexual harassment, it is illegal. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against a worker for these reasons.

2) Wrongful Termination Based on Discrimination in California

In California, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees in any way based on the worker’s personal characteristics. When a group of individuals shares personal characteristics, they are known by the term “protected class,” and it is illegal to terminate these people based in any way on their characteristics. In California, protected classes are:

  • Veteran or Military Status
  • Gender Identity
  • HIV/AIDS status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Race
  • Pregnancy
  • Skin Color
  • Sex
  • Age (over 40)
  • Origin
  • Ancestry
  • Disability
  • Citizenship Status
  • Medical Conditions
  • Marital Status
  • Genetic Information
  • Religion
  • Victim of Domestic Violence, Stalking, Assault
  • Political Affiliations / Activities

If an individual is terminated from their job based on one of these characteristics, this is the definition of wrongful termination in California. Importantly, there may be other protected classes in your specific city, and this information should be readily available. In San Francisco, for example, weight and height qualify as classes that are protected.

3) Employer Retaliation for An Employee Taking Family Medical Leave

It is illegal for an employer to lay off a worker for inquiring about or going on family medical leave. Under California law, workers are protected against employers who may retaliate based on employees using their accumulated days of sick leave for treatment, diagnosis, or care related to either an existing health condition or preventative care for a family member.

When an employee asks if they can use paid sick leave, and they are then terminated within 30 days of the request, this is wrongful termination. The employer must be able to prove that the firing took place for another reason. If this occurs to an individual, they should contact an attorney at once because they have been wrongfully terminated.

Additionally, workers cannot be terminated simply for utilizing their rights to medical leave or family medical leave under the FMLA (Federal Medical Leave Act) or the CFRA (California Family Rights Act. Employees are entitled to use up to 12 weeks of leave for themselves or their family members if there is a serious health condition and if they work for a company that is covered by one of these laws.

If you are fired within 90 days of returning from FMLA leave, or while on FMLA leave, the law assumes that you have been wrongfully discharged. Thus, the burden is on the employer to prove that they fired you for reasons entirely unrelated to your sick leave. Wrongful termination based on sickness or family sickness is a serious offense, so if this has happened to you, contact a lawyer today.

4) Violation of Public Policy and Wrongful Termination in California

There are multiple reasons why an employee’s termination may be considered in violation of public policy. If an individual is terminated for the reason that goes against the state laws of California, then the firing can be construed as wrongful, and the employee would be entitled to pursue legal assistance and seek out damage through a lawsuit. An employer’s violation of public policy in any way is therefore illegal in the state.

Wrongful grounds for termination in California additionally can include, but are not limited to:

  • Requesting accommodation for lactating mothers, expressing breast milk at work.
  • Lawful conduct of employees during nonworking hours, taking place away from the employer’s place of work.
  • Taking time off from work when the employee has been a victim of a crime.
  • Taking time off for jury duty.
  • Divulging information about harmful working conditions.

5) Breach of Contract: Wrongful Termination

If an employee is not classified as “at will,” then that is probably because there is an employment agreement that states that the worker will be laid off only under specific conditions, otherwise known as “good cause” or “just cause.” However, if an individual did not sign an agreement like this, then wrongful termination can occur when an employer terminates their employment for the reason that has not been out outlined in the agreement.

Additionally, if the employee’s agreement says that they will only be terminated for “just cause,” then the reason for termination must fit the agreement’s description of a just cause. If it does not, this could also qualify as wrongful termination.

Likewise, wrongful termination can occur in this category if an employer uses the agreement and the reasons stated within it as a cover for another improper reason. Some employers will reference the agreement and the “good cause” terms but then terminate their employees for unrelated and unfair reasons.

If you do not have a written and signed agreement with your place of work, the courts can still be asked to figure out of your agreement is actually on oral terms or implied. An implied contract could be predicated on the fact that the employer has a type of written policy that they enforce that states that terminations can only occur for “good cause.”

These situations can be complicated, so if you believe your contract has been violated or breached in this way by your employer, make sure to contact an attorney who is familiar with California employment law.

6) Retaliation for Whistleblowers

“Whistleblowing” is the term associated with a worker reporting an employer’s illegal behavior. This behavior could be in violation of federal, local, or state regulations, laws, or rules. It is not only unfair, immoral, and unjust for an employee to be fired for reporting illegal actions, but it is also grounds for the most obvious of wrongful terminations. If an employee can prove they were fired for reporting wrongdoing, this is classified as wrongful termination. On another note, if a worker reports that working conditions are unsafe, they can under no condition be laid off for this statement.

7) Discrimination Based on Pregnancy

If an employee is singled out and fired because they are planning on becoming pregnant, dealing with complications regarding birth or other pregnancy-related medical issues, or is simply pregnant, this is a form of acute discrimination in California.

All pregnancy-related firings are illegal in California under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Also, requests for leave or other accommodations related to pregnancy and issues surrounding a pregnancy that is met with termination or penalties are wrongful and not tolerated.

8) Breach of the Covenant of Fair Dealing and Good Faith

A claim can be made for wrongful termination based on the “covenant of good faith/fair dealing” when a worker is terminated in what is a fundamentally unfair manner. To explain, every contract that is signed includes what is called an “implied covenant of good faith/fair dealing.” In signing the contract and forging ahead, both parties have agreed to this term. What does it mean? Essentially, it implies that both parties promise not to commit any acts in bad faith or to do anything unfair in order to deny the other party of the beneficial aspects of said agreement.

In terms of a relationship between a worker and an employer, this stipulates that an employer in California is obligated to cooperate with workers in allowing the worker to accomplish their obligations.

Now, forms of obstruction and interference such as evasions, lies, deliberate lack of action, overall stoppage of communication, and other behaviors can all potentially violate the covenant. If you believe the covenant of good faith has been breached in your relationship with your employer, contact a lawyer and find out—your situation might be an idea for a lawsuit of alleged wrongful termination.

9) Complaining About Violations of California Wage and Hour Law Violations: Employer Retaliation

It is unlawful for employers in California to terminate employees or retaliate against employees in any way for complaining about unpaid wages. Now, this also holds true for reporting unpaid meal and rest break violations, complaining about a lack of overtime pay, and reporting unpaid wages. When employees rightfully file a claim with the CA Dept. of Industrial Relations as a way to report and recoup unpaid earnings, this is also covered by the California Labor Code, and an employer cannot fire an employee for doing this. Overall, when workers exercise any of the rights that are afforded to them by the California Labor Code, whether for themselves or for other workers, they are protected. Terminations cannot occur for this reason, and if they do, they are deemed unlawful and, therefore, wrongful.

Contact a California Wrongful Termination Attorney at Nakase Law Firm

At the California Law Offices of Nakase Law Firm, we believe everyone who has been a victim of unlawful termination deserves the chance to recover financially and personally. If you believe you have been fired for reasons that are illegal, the best thing to do is consult with a lawyer to see what your options are. Once you review your options with a licensed attorney, you will be able to move forward and move on with not only your job but your life. Our skilled lawyers are well-versed in California employment law and wrongful terminations California. Our experts will help you get back in the game, so call us for a free consultation today. Remember: if your employer has behaved illegally, it is not your fault. No one should be let go from their occupation for the wrong reasons. Together, we can get you back on track.

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What Is A Hostile Work Environment?

The law defines an unlawful hostile work environment to mean when a superior or coworker communication or behavior that is offensive, intimating, or discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, etc.

Can you take unpaid time off in California?

There is no legal requirement in California that an employer provide its employees with either paid or unpaid vacation time. However, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year.

DFEH Right to Sue

To file a lawsuit for discrimination, you must file a complaint with DFEH and obtain a Right-to-Sue notice.

Is It Illegal To Not Pay Overtime?

Yes, it is illegal for employer to not pay overtime because California law requires that employers pay overtime, whether authorized or not.

What Is Rate Pay Meaning?

The meaning of pay rate is the average hourly rate an employee is paid calculated by dividing the total pay for employment in a work week by the total number of hours actually worked.

California Break Laws

Under California law, non-exempt workers are entitled to two paid 10-minute rest breaks and one unpaid meal break during their eight-hour shift. 

Not Getting Paid for Work I Have Done

Workers who have not been paid for work have the right to file a claim with the federal and state Department of Labor for unpaid wages.

California Overtime Law

Under California overtime law, an employee who works over eight hours a day or over forty hours per week is entitled to overtime pay at one and one-half times the regular rate of pay.

Who is exempt from overtime pay?

As of 2023, to be exempt from overtime pay, any employees who are paid at least $62,400 per year and work are primarily professional, executive, creative, managerial, or intellectual and require the exercise of independent judgment.

Can Previous Employers Talk Bad About You?

There are no state or federal laws prohibiting what a previous employer can or cannot say about a former employee. However, previous employers are not permitted to make up lies to damage your reputation and make it difficult for you to get another job.

Can An Employer Cut Your Pay as Punishment?

Employers cannot cut hours to retaliate against employees. Cutting the hours of an employee should never be used as discipline or in an attempt to make an employee quit. 

California Random Drug Testing Law

Random drug testing is not permitted in California, and employers must give their employees notice before a drug test is given.

What happens if you get caught working under the table?

Generally, it is not illegal for your employer to pay you in cash. However, if the employer paid you under the table and did not report your earnings, you may be entitled to money damages under California Labor Code 226.

ADA Proof of Disability

An employer has no right to ask an employee to provide proof of disability unless the employee requests a reasonable accommodation and the employer does not believe disability exists.

FMLA Retaliation and Wrongful Discharge

An employer is prohibited from retaliating, interfering with, restraining, or denying an employee’s exercise of any FMLA right. If an employer wrongfully terminates an employee for FLMA taking medical leave, the worker could have a lawsuit against the employer.

Per Diem Employee Rights

A per diem employee is a worker who work on an as needed basis. A per diem employee does not have a regular schedule or shift but instead works hours as assigned.

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