California employers can terminate their employees for any reason or no reason, so long as the reason for terminating the employee is not an illegal one. It is against federal and state law to fire a worker for a prohibited reason, such as the employee’s sex, race, or other protected characteristic or because the employee engaged in protected activities, such as objecting to the employer’s unlawful conduct. There may also be grounds for a wrongful termination claim if the employer’s actions violate the terms of an employment contract.
Unlawful termination claims raise many complex issues, which is why the employment attorneys at Minnis & Smallets, LLP are committed to protecting the rights and interests of our clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. While we develop a customized approach to your specific circumstances after conducting an initial case review, some general information on wrongful termination claims may be useful.
Most employees in California are considered to be at-will. That means that the employer can terminate the employee for any reason or no reason at all, so long as the motivation for the termination does not involve discrimination or another unlawful reason. Cut backs, layoffs, and poor performance, are all valid, legal reasons for terminating an employee, provided that they are not a pretext for an unlawful reason, such as discrimination. However, at-will employment also means that an employer does not need to have a good reason for terminating an employee, again provided that the reason for the termination is not illegal.
Some employees in California are employed pursuant to an agreement that requires their employee to have just cause to terminate the employee. Such just cause termination agreements may be contained in an employment contract. In come circumstances, an agreement not to terminate an employment without having just cause for doing so can be implied by the circumstances of the employment arrangement. In addition, employees who are members of unions typically cannot be terminated without just cause.
Regardless of whether or not an employee is at-will, an employer is prohibited by California and federal law for firing the employee for discriminatory reasons, or for other unlawful reasons. There may be grounds for a wrongful termination claim where an employer dismissed a worker on account of the employee’s:
In addition, an employer is prohibited for firing an employee for retaliatory reasons. California law prohibits terminating a worker for objecting or refusing to participate in unlawful conduct, such as cooperating with an official investigation, filing a claim for discrimination, alleging harassment, requesting accommodations for religious practices or disability, or making other complaints protected by law.
Damages available for an employee in a wrongful termination case can include back or front pay, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, court costs, and other damages.
If you are a California employee or employer with questions about a wrongful termination claim, please call 1-415-551-0885 to reach the San Francisco offices of Minnis & Smallets, LLP. Our dedicated lawyers can schedule a consultation to explain how the law applies in your situation and provide additional information on your legal options. You can also visit us online to learn more about our employment law services.