7 Tips Employees Must Know About Wrongful Termination

A wrongful termination can expose an employers to millions of dollars in a lawsuit. In California, a claim for wrongful termination can be filed in the courts when a worker thinks they have been fired illegally from their place of employment. A claim for illegal dismissal such as this can also be fired when an employee believes that their termination was based on a complaint they have made, sexual harassment, or a worker’s compensation claim. If, for example, a worker complains about sexual harassment or another type of discrimination and they are fired, they are also eligible to file a claim for wrongful dismissal.

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Many claims in this category are based on an alleged violation of state or federal laws, labor laws, employment contracts, and whistleblower laws. There are a wide variety of reasons why an employer cannot terminate an individual, especially in California. When a worker feels they have been laid off for a reason that is illegal or unfair, the best course of action is usually to consult with a lawyer in order to make sure that their rights are protected under the law and that they can build a case to recover their wages or be reinstated.

Based on these facts, the overriding opinion is that wrongful termination is a fairly simple concept and that employers that engage in this type of unjust, unfair, and often prejudiced and immoral behavior will be penalized. The same goes for employees who are terminated for normal, just reasons and then attempt to use labor law to obtain lost wages or get their jobs back when they do not deserve them.

However, these legal issues are overwhelmingly complicated, and many myths are perpetuated in the workplace about wrongful termination. While it can be quite a challenge for a worker to find themselves jobless for what appears to be no real reason, sometimes the issue is one of perception and opinion, and these are difficult to prove factually. For example, some employees perceive their abilities and talents to be proficient (or highly proficient), but the employer who measures their job performance—often in a different way—sees just the opposite.

Thus, wrongful dismissal can truly only be known as “wrongful” if it is illegal under the law. Let’s take a look at the plethora of misconceptions regarding the unfair dismissal of employees in California. Remember, if you have any questions, it makes sense to contact a lawyer who is well-versed in employment law and wrongful termination in California.

Here are the top seven misconceptions regarding wrongful termination.

1) All Employees Who Are Over a Certain Age Remain Protected by Employment Law.

Many of us are aware that age discrimination is not just a problem across the United States, but specifically in the workplace. Many workers assume that if they are older than 40, they are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act while in the workplace.

However, the ADEA really only protects employees and job applicants who fit a certain set of guidelines, so the truth is that not all workers are covered. The guidelines include things such as working for a private employer who oversees 20 or more employees for a minimum time of 20 weeks per year.

If a worker is covered by the ADEA, they are able to file a lawsuit against their employer for discrimination based on privileges, hiring, appraisal, and termination.

2) Any Firing That Appears Unreasonable Is Recognized as Wrongful Termination.

In California, when an employee is hired at will, that worker can be laid off at any point in their career. The prevailing legal principle in California is called “employment at will,” and it provides a large amount of authority to the employer in terms of being able to terminate employees. The fact that employees can decide when and why to fire employees, and can really terminate them for any reason they choose, remains relatively unknown. To many, this sounds like a harsh policy, especially since a worker can be fired for something as inconsequential as using their cellphone during work or even chewing their favorite breath-freshening gum.

To clarify this point, an employee can be fired for any reason unless there was an employment contract that was signed by both employer and employee that stipulates otherwise. If the contract requires that termination be accompanied by a rightful cause, and the employee who has been laid off is not given one, then they may be able to file a wrongful termination claim.

However, many believe that state and federal employment laws, such as anti-discrimination laws, are not applicable in states considered at will. This is untrue. If a worker is laid off for reasons involving any type of discrimination (race, gender, religion, and more), then the employer can still be found liable for violating the law.

In order to prevent retaliation charges, it is important for both employers and workers to have a complete understanding of what actions may be considered retaliatory. Retaliation charges can often be linked to costly penalties, but there are clear steps both parties can take to avoid these expensive and disruptive claims.

3) If and When an Employee Quits, They Are Unable to Sue Their Employer

Many believe that if an employee decides to quit their job, they are unable to sue their employer or file a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination. However, it is important to understand that is not true. Situations do occur when workers find that the environment where they work is too dangerous, hostile, or simply intolerable for a variety of reasons. When an employee simply cannot tolerate their workplace—and this can occur for a variety of reasons—they feel compelled to leave their jobs.

When these conditions exist, employees are still free to sue their employers. Workers should know that when they feel unsafe physically or mentally, they find the work they are expected to do is dangerous, or they are harassed or made to feel uncomfortable at their place of work, they can and should sue their employers. Also important to note: sometimes workers are convinced to resign by their employers. Even if this type of coercion occurs, the employee can still file a claim citing wrongful dismissal afterward.

4) Because My Employer Cares About Their Reputation, the Lawsuit I File Will Be Settled Quickly.

Unfortunately, many cases of wrongful dismissal cannot be settled quickly. The key here for the worker is the possession of facts or specific evidence. If the employee cannot easily prove that their termination was unjustified, the employer may not back down. One reason for this is that though many think the company will worry about negative publicity, the truth is that attorneys for larger companies do not normally worry about that too much. Unless the worker is a public figure, a celebrity, or enjoys some sense of notoriety, the local press will not provide much coverage, either.

Another important point to remember when considering how long a wrongful termination lawsuit may play out is the statute of limitations in California. Large companies will often attempt to slow down a wrongful termination suit. They know that the longer the trial goes on, the better the chance that they might be able to escape the entire ordeal based on the statute of limitations.

5) Political Affiliation Can Be Grounds for Termination

Workers simply cannot legally be laid off for admitting that they voted for a certain candidate. While many believe that they must keep this information private, it is essential that every California resident know that they have the freedom to express their political views in the workplace in any way they see fit. However, it is useful to know that this is only true if you work in Louisiana, Connecticut, South Carolina, and California. These are the only US states that currently protect workers’ rights to express their political views freely.

However, there are additional states that uphold legal protections for citizens in terms of the ability to attend political rallies and protests or support politicians. If an employee is wondering if their specific case qualifies for a wrongful dismissal claim, they should speak with a qualified employment lawyer. A skilled attorney will be familiar with employment laws not only in their state but throughout the country.

6) Women and Minorities Are The Only Demographics Who Benefit From Workplace Discrimination Laws

Although this is a common misconception, it could not be further from the truth. Across the US, each and every individual who possesses a different medical history, citizenship status, marital status, religion, country of origin, race, and gender has the fundamental right to protection under laws of workplace discrimination. This is true not only in California but everywhere in the US.

The reason that these laws are in place is that it is clear that anyone can be treated unfairly, discriminated against, and wrongfully terminated by their employers. It does matter if the employee is a woman or a man, or considered a minority or not. Based on this, if a worker is fired only because of their sexual orientation, medical condition, disability, religion, or race, they can and should file a claim for illegal dismissal.

7) When a Worker is Fired for Speaking Out Against an Illegal Practice, it is Impossible to Prove

One of the largest misconceptions about illegal termination is that it is simply not possible to show that an employee has been fired from their company for speaking out. When an employee sees or hears that their company is engaged in illegal practices and reports it, this is often known as “whistleblowing.”

While it can be a challenge to prove that a worker was terminated in retaliation for exposing illegal behavior, it can be done. This is because there are both state and federal laws that protect whistleblowers against retaliatory conduct by their employers. It is illegal, in fact, for employers to punish workers simply for reporting illegal acts or covert wrongdoing within the company. Often, whistleblowers are performing a brave act and risking their jobs and reputations in order to prevent unfair and illegal acts from occurring and continuing to occur.

California Employment Lawyer

Misconceptions such as the ones outlined above can hold employees back from filing a claim of wrongful termination. Often, these claims can be proven and are protected by state or federal law. If you are subject to harassment or believe you are working in a hostile environment, contact our employment attorneys today for a free consultation. If you are an employer and feel that a worker is making a false claim of unfair termination, we can also help your company weather the storm. For all of your employment law concerns in California, we are here to help. Our lawyers are skilled litigators who can help you deal with wrongful termination complications quickly and professionally, so you can get back to business.

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