Work is a necessity for people to be able to support themselves and their families in Los Angeles, CA, but it may not always be a healthy or productive environment. You may encounter supervisors or employers who discriminate against employees because of a protected status, such as their age, race, or sexuality. Discrimination comes in many forms and may include giving someone unfavorable work, sending hateful or harassing communications, or ultimately terminating them.
If any of this is reported to a higher-ranking manager, to Human Resources, or to a legal entity, then the employer may choose to retaliate and fire the person who reported them. California is an at-will employment state, but there are still laws in place to protect employees from being fired illegally. If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer from California Employment Counsel, APC, can help you understand your rights, file a claim, and get the compensation you deserve.
At-Will Employment in California
If you are employed in California, then it is on an at-will basis, which means that employment only continues “at the will” of both the employee and the employer. This is intended to offer a certain level of protection to both workers and business leaders. If an employee is working at will, it means that they are able to leave a job or work environment that is unsafe, discriminatory, or no longer meeting their needs. For employers, at-will employment allows them to hire staff and fire them when they deem it necessary. Despite California being an at-will employment state, there are still laws that shield employees from wrongful termination.
What Is Wrongful Termination?
Many people misunderstand wrongful termination and assume that it applies to any circumstance where someone was fired in a way that they believe to be unfair. That is not the case, and, despite how difficult an unfair firing may be, it likely will not have legal grounds for a wrongful termination case. For a firing to be considered wrongful termination, the reason for termination must be illegal.
This often means that the employer fired someone simply because they had a prejudice against them, such as firing someone for their religious beliefs or their ethnicity. Another common ground for a wrongful termination case is if the employee was fired as a means of retaliation, potentially for reporting their employer for illegal or unsafe practices. Understanding the difference between getting laid off, or fired fairly, and wrongful termination can help you know whether you should proceed with a legal claim.
California Labor Codes Restricting Wrongful Termination
Compared to many states, California law tends to protect its employees rather than employers. The laws that have been put in place to govern employers and their employees in California are known as the Labor Code. This is an expansive network of laws, statutes, and regulations that detail:
How employers should act
How employees should be treated and supervised,
The protections that are available
Which companies are not required to follow certain laws
There are hundreds of sections in the California Labor Code, but a few specifically pertain to employee protection and wrongful termination:
Section 98.6: If an employee finds it necessary to report the conditions of their workplace or the treatment that they receive from a supervisor, they can file a claim with the Labor Commissioner. This section provides protection for employees who speak up about or report mistreatment in their workplace.
Section 230: This section has at least nine subsections, many of them including additional regulations. All of the subsections of this statute outline specific protections for employees in certain circumstances. This includes banning retaliation against employees for taking time off work for jury duty or to attend legal proceedings if they were the victim of a crime. Employees are also protected from retaliation when asking for necessary accommodations at work if they are a victim of domestic violence. This section of the Labor Code also protects parents who need to take up to eight hours off work each month for school activities, such as enrollment or events, with their child.
Section 232: Many companies have policies in place, either written or unspoken, that make employees believe that they are not able to discuss their pay with other employees. These policies are not lawful and cannot be enforced by employers because Labor Code Section 232 protects employees who discuss their wages. This allows employees to know if they are being compensated fairly and advocate for higher pay if they are not. A subsection of this code also protects employees who discuss their working conditions and prohibits employers from keeping the information from being shared.
There are many other sections of the California Labor Code that apply to employee protection, including sections:
Protecting the use of sick leave
Prohibiting employers from reporting an employee or former employee to immigration maliciously
Protecting an employee’s right to participate in legal political actions however they see fit
These codes can be difficult to comprehend because there are so many of them, but an experienced attorney from California Employment Counsel, APC, can help you understand your rights as an employee.
Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, it is important that you contact a skilled attorney as quickly as possible. You will typically have less than a year from the initial termination to file your claim, but a Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney can guide you through the process, ensure that your documentation is correct, and file everything in a timely manner.
When you choose to pursue legal action for wrongful termination, you will have to file your initial claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. This organization is responsible for upholding federal employment laws and enforcing any necessary penalties. When you file a complaint with the EEOC, they will launch an investigation into your former employer. If they find that your complaint is accurate, and you were wrongfully terminated, they will give you permission to continue your claim in court.
This could mean that you will have to go through a trial against your former employer to receive compensation, or they will seek a settlement out of court. In some cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will enforce penalties, like significant fines, against the employer directly. Regardless of the process, one of the most difficult aspects of a wrongful termination case is proving that your employer acted illegally.
Proving a Wrongful Termination Case
When an employee files any type of civil employment case against their employer, including charges such as wrongful termination or discrimination, they are responsible for providing the evidence that proves their claim. This has to be done with what is called a Preponderance of Evidence, which means that your evidence must show that the illegality of your termination was more likely than not.
If you have direct, irrefutable evidence that your termination was illegal, that will be most effective, but that type of evidence can be very difficult to obtain. There are other forms of evidence that you can use to prove your wrongful termination claim:
Patterns of Behavior: In many cases, termination is not the first negative action that an employee has faced. They may have been dealing with discriminatory behavior like:
Exclusion from activities because of a protected status
Having hours cut for no reason
Being given work that is excessively dangerous or unfavorable for an extended time prior to being fired
If the employee has kept track of when these things happened and has evidence that there was a pattern of mistreatment or discrimination, it can be used as evidence for their wrongful termination claim.
Timing of Events: Retaliation can also be considered grounds for a wrongful termination claim. If an employee complains about mistreatment, or makes a report about unsafe working conditions, they may face retaliation in the form of getting fired. A termination that closely follows an incident or complaint, but has no other valid reasoning behind it, can be used to prove wrongful termination.
Statements From Witnesses: It is possible that coworkers, clients, or other supervisors witnessed the mistreatment or discrimination that eventually led to wrongful termination. These individuals may be willing to provide written statements detailing the actions they witnessed, including:
Jokes that were insensitive or derogatory
Racial slurs being used against an employee
Plans made to exclude an employee
These witness statements are strong evidence for a wrongful termination claim.
History of Employee Complaints: Discrimination, mistreatment, and wrongful termination are not always isolated incidents. In some cases, an employer may have a history of these behaviors that has been noted, reported, or prosecuted in the past. If an employee can prove that their employer has a documented history of complaints from employees about discrimination, then their wrongful termination case will be stronger.
Gathering the proper evidence is an important part of an effective wrongful termination claim, but it is also important to know what legal grounds you have for your claim. The team at California Employment Counsel, APC, can help you determine what evidence may be the most effective for your wrongful termination claim.
Legal Claims Connected to Wrongful Termination in California
It is always wrong when an employee is illegally fired, but the specifics of their claim may differ. If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated and want to pursue legal action, it is important to understand how different legal claims can impact your case. Some of the most common claims made in connection with wrongful termination include:
Contract Disputes: Depending on the industry you work in; you may have signed a contract when you started that detailed how long you would be working for the company. These contracts, when written properly, also place limits on why you can be fired, often stipulating that your employer must have just cause to end your employment. Some contracts may also detail that, as an employee, you can request a report on the reason for your firing. If you are terminated for any reason that does not meet the terms of your contract, then you may have a wrongful termination claim.
Retaliation: Employees are well within their rights to report their employer for actions that are unsafe, illegal, or discriminatory. Unfortunately, some employers may have an adverse reaction to these reports because it could potentially harm their business. Often, these employers will retaliate against an employee. If you can show that your employer fired you in response to a report or complaint that you made, it can be evidence of a wrongful termination.
Discrimination: There are state and federal laws in place, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that offer protection for individuals who fall into certain protected classes. This protection means that they cannot be discriminated against, either by being mistreated or being fired from a job, simply because their identity includes a protected status. The EEOC includes race, gender, pregnancy, sex, color, age, national origin, disability status, and more as protected classes. An employer who dismisses an employee based only on a protected status may be liable for wrongful termination.
Public Policy Violation: These claims are similar to retaliation cases but deal more with the legal rights of the individual that was fired. An employee cannot be terminated for exercising their rights or refusing to do something illegal on behalf of their employer. If you attend a protest against police brutality in your area on your own time, for example, you cannot be fired simply because your employer does not agree with your stance on the topic. Similarly, if your supervisor tells you to give a false report about workplace safety and you refuse, they cannot fire you simply because you refuse to break the law.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim: Getting injured at work is always challenging because you will have to navigate your physical recovery and deal with the financial strain of time away from work. For most workplace injuries, the costs involved should be covered by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance, but you should be allowed to continue working if you are able. Being fired solely because you filed a workers’ comp claim is illegal and can be grounds for a wrongful termination claim.
Regardless of the type of legal claim you have, you should be able to fight a wrongful termination with the assistance of a skilled Los Angeles employment lawyer. California law, as well as federal laws enforced by the EEOC, offer ample protection for illegally fired employees. One of the main reasons why these laws and protections are in place is to ensure that employees who are wrongfully terminated get compensation for the personal and financial strain they faced.
Wrongful Termination Settlements in California
If you are fired from your job illegally, it will likely cause a great deal of stress because you lost a primary stream of income. Additional financial problems can come in the form of expenses you incur while you are searching for a new job and costs you are responsible for if you lose benefits, like health care, that were provided by your employer. These additional costs, as well as emotional distress, are considered damages, and your employer may be liable to pay them.
Three common types of damages that you may receive are:
Compensation: If an employer is found guilty of wrongfully terminating an employee, then they will likely have to pay compensatory damages. This award is typically equal to what the employee would have been paid if they had not been fired, but it can also include additional payment for emotional trauma, back wages, and other damages that they suffered following their dismissal.
Punitive Damages: Some wrongful termination cases include evidence and testimony that the employer did something particularly egregious, such as blatantly using offensive language or specifically targeting people of a certain protected class. In these instances, the court may order an additional punishment for the employer in the form of punitive damages. This is an additional cost they must pay to the victim, often as a way to deter similar behavior in the future.
Legal Costs: The legal process of filing and completing a wrongful termination case can be costly. You may have to pay fees for expert witnesses, costs associated with filing various claims and motions, and the fees for your legal representation. An employer who is guilty of wrongful termination will often have to cover these costs for the fired employee.
California Employment Counsel, APC, Can Help You Fight Wrongful Termination
Losing a job is never easy, as it can cause significant stress, financial challenges, and potential damage to personal relationships. That can all be magnified if you were wrongfully terminated because you are also dealing with the anger and frustration of being unfairly let go. In these situations, it is important to have effective and aggressive legal counsel.
An accomplished Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer can be an invaluable asset if you choose to pursue legal action. They have an understanding of the California Labor Code, have worked with many clients facing the same circumstances you are in, and can analyze and assess the details of your case to create a plan for how to move forward. If you believe that your termination was unlawful, trust the team at California Employment Counsel, APC, to fight for you. Contact our office today for further assistance.
Why Speak Up In California
You should never be afraid to assert your
rights as an employee