Orange County Employment Attorney
Being fired from your job is incredibly stressful and traumatic, but this experience is significantly worse when your employer removes you from your position for an illegal reason. California law allows you to pursue legal recourse against your employer if you were wrongfully terminated and suffered losses due to that termination. Similar to many other states, California is regarded as an at-will employment state, meaning employers can legally end their employment relationships for practically any reason. However, when this termination violates state or federal law or is a breach of public policy, you are entitled to pursue a wrongful termination claim to recover compensation.
Learn more about wrongful termination in California by reviewing the information below, then contact the California Employment Counsel immediately if you believe you were fired for an unlawful reason. If you want advice from a reputable employment attorney in Orange County, California Employment Counsel can help you understand your rights, prepare a formidable claim, and aggressively advocate on your behalf so you can receive the justice and restitution you deserve.
What Is Wrongful Termination in Orange County?
Because California is an at-will employment state, both employers and employees have the right to terminate an employment relationship at any time, for almost any reason, with or without giving prior notice. Although this system offers flexibility for workers, it has led some employers to interpret these laws to mean they have complete freedom to fire their employees regardless of the circumstances. However, federal and state laws prohibit wrongful termination or employee firing based on illegal reasons. They entitle wrongfully terminated employees to pursue civil litigation against their employers for this behavior.
What Are Exceptions to At-Will Employment?
California labor law stipulates certain exceptions to the rule of at-will employment, and firing an employee under circumstances that involve these exceptions can be considered wrongful termination:
- Breach of Employment Contract
An employment contract is considered valid whether it is written or implied. A written employment contract or other statement promising job security forms a strong argument that your employment is not at will. Written agreements can include offers that make promises about continuing to employ a worker or outline disciplinary steps that must be taken before they can be fired. An implied contract refers to an employment agreement understood by both parties, even if they did not sign a written document defining the terms. An implied contract agreeing not to terminate an employee without providing reasonable cause can take the form of issuing an employee handbook that outlines the reasons for firing an employee or assuring an employee that their job is protected if they do not engage in certain behaviors.
- Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
An employer who acts unfairly may be breaching the duty of good faith and fair dealing. This is an implied covenant made by both parties in which they agree to refrain from taking any actions that would deprive the other party of benefits agreed to in a contract or make it impossible for the other party to uphold their contractual obligations. Examples include misleading employees about the potential for promotions or pay increases, firing them to replace them with a new employee who will work for lower wages and inventing reasons to conceal the true motive, minimizing the negative aspects of a job, or repeatedly ordering an employee to complete dangerous or undesirable tasks to persuade them to quit without collecting the benefits they are entitled to receive.
- Violation of Public Policy
Wrongful termination in violation of public policy means an employer fires an employee because they refuse to cooperate in committing illegal acts or acts that may be considered socially unacceptable or because they performed a legal obligation. This includes terminating an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim, reporting a workplace safety violation to OSHA, sharing information about the company refusing to provide earned wages and benefits, or taking time off work to perform a civil duty, such as voting, appearing on a jury, or serving in the military. Another form of violating public policy is whistleblower retaliation, or being fired due to notifying government authorities or law enforcement agencies about a company’s illegal actions or wrongdoings that could negatively impact the public.
What Are Other Unlawful Reasons to Terminate Employment?
If your employer does not constitute an exception to at-will employment, you are entitled to pursue litigation against your employer for wrongful termination if your firing involved any of the following circumstances:
- Discrimination—Federal law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against their workers based on race, color, national origin, citizenship status, age, sex, religion, disability status, pregnancy, or genetic information. California extends employment discrimination to include ancestry, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, medical conditions, AIDS or HIV, political affiliation or activity, military or veteran status, or being a victim of stalking, domestic violence, or sexual assault.
- Political speech and activities—California labor law states that employers do not have the authority to control or direct their employees’ political speech and activities. An employee may have grounds for a wrongful termination claim if they are fired for sharing their political opinions or engaging in political activities, such as joining a labor union or becoming involved in union efforts.
- Retaliation—According to the Fair Employment and Housing Act of California (FEHA), employers are prohibited from retaliating against their employers for engaging in legally protected activities, such as opposing workplace harassment or discrimination, formally complaining about workplace harassment or discrimination, filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or testifying or otherwise offering assistance in an investigation or legal claim concerning harassment or discrimination.
- Wrongful constructive termination—In California, you can file a claim against your employer even if your employment was not actually terminated. Constructive termination refers to an employer who cannot terminate an employee outright (due to contract or public policy), either intentionally creating or knowingly allowing a work environment to become so hostile and intolerable that it would force a reasonable employee to resign.
- Failure to comply with WARN Act—The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires employers with at least 75 employees to give them 60 days’ notice before initiating a layoff of 50 or more workers or before closing or relocating their work facility.
In some cases, an employer’s actions are so intentionally deceitful and unethical that they may be classified as fraud. This often occurs during the recruiting process by making promises about employment and later violating them or during the end of a worker’s employment, such as forcing them to resign. Proving you were wrongfully terminated due to fraud involves proving that your employer falsely represented the position, they intended to trick or deceive you by persuading you to rely on the false representation, someone on a higher level knew about this behavior, you did rely on the representation, and you were harmed because of it.
What Damages Can I Recover in a Wrongful Termination Claim?
Filing a wrongful termination claim allows you to pursue compensation for the losses you incurred due to losing your job. These damages are awarded based on the legal grounds you provide for your wrongful termination claim and the specific circumstances of your case. An employment attorney in Orange County can help you recover the following damages for a valid wrongful termination claim:
- Lost Pay
Lost pay comprises all the income you would have received if you had not been wrongfully terminated, such as earned and unpaid wages, overtime pay, bonuses, and other forms of monetary compensation your employer withheld from you. However, if you were later rehired, this damage award will be reduced by the amount of money you earned after losing your original position or the amount you could have made from securing a similar position. If you receive the same rate of pay or a higher rate, lost pay damages end on the date of rehire. If your new position involves a lower pay rate, you can collect lost pay damages equal to this difference.
- Lost Benefits
You can collect damages for lost employment benefits resulting from your wrongful termination, including medical and dental insurance, pensions, retirement plans, stock options, profit-sharing, and other benefits. A employment lawyer can help you assess these losses and calculate a damage award that accurately represents them in a dollar amount.
- Loss of Future Pay and Benefits
In addition to lost pay and benefits between the date of your termination and the court verdict or settlement, you may be entitled to compensation for the lost pay and benefits. This amount equals the value of the salary and employment benefits you would have received from the date of the verdict or settlement until the date you would have lost your job under reasonable circumstances. The court determines this damage award based on your age, past work performance, and intention to remain with your former employer, your employer’s intention for holding your position, and other factors that impact the length of time you would have expected to remain employed in your prior job.
- Loss of Reputation
If your wrongful termination caused you to experience damage to your professional reputation that made it more challenging for you to secure new employment, you might be entitled to damages for this loss.
- Emotional Distress
Being fired illegally not only affects your financial situation but can also cause unnecessary emotional distress, including anxiety, grief, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, as well as physical symptoms that result from this distress. In some wrongful termination cases, you can request damages for emotional distress, also referred to as pain and suffering. Typically, a jury will only award this type of damages if your employer engaged in particularly unethical, harmful behavior, and this caused you to suffer in a manner that can be confirmed by an evaluation from a mental health professional. Emotional distress is available for termination due to whistleblower retaliation and violation of public policy, FEHA, or the WARN Act.
- Punitive Damages
In rare cases, you could recover punitive damages if your wrongful termination involved actions that can be considered especially egregious, such as oppression, malice, or fraud. Unlike the damages described above, this form of damage is not designed to compensate you for your losses but is meant as a form of punishment that holds your employer accountable for their actions by ordering them to pay damages beyond what you need to recover your losses. Punitive damages are not based on economic or non-economic losses but are decided by a jury based on the specific details of the case.
- Attorney Fees
Although claimants of wrongful termination are usually responsible for paying their own attorney fees, some forms of wrongful termination can allow you to recover this expense. The most common form of termination that can lead to a damage award for attorney fees is a violation of FEHA, but you may also be able to collect this award for termination comprising a violation of public policy.
An important limitation to your ability to collect damages for wrongful termination involves your duty to mitigate these damages and losses. If you were wrongfully terminated and failed to seek new employment for an extended time even though positions were available to you, the lost pay you recover could be reduced due to failure to mitigate damages. This duty requires workers to take reasonable steps toward gaining new employment and prevents them from accumulating lost pay from their former employer if they could have secured a new position to make up for this loss.
Contact the California Employment Counsel Law Firm for Justice and Fair Compensation Today
If you suspect you were wrongfully terminated, contact the California Employment Counsel today to discuss your case. Our team of expert employment attorneys in Orange County has successfully represented employees in wrongful termination cases and helped them fight back against employers who fired them for illegal reasons. We offer compassionate, comprehensive legal representation, extensive experience, and in-depth knowledge of the law to advocate for our clients. Our dedicated attorneys will closely examine the circumstances of your termination and implement strategies personalized for your individual needs and goals.
Schedule a consultation with the California Employment Counsel to learn more about how we can help you navigate a wrongful termination. We can protect your rights, preserve your interests, and ensure you receive justice and fair compensation to cover the damages you incurred due to this illegal behavior.