Unlawful Termination
San Francisco Employment Lawyers Discuss Unlawful Termination
San Francisco Employment Lawyers Discuss Unlawful Termination

San Francisco Employment Lawyers Discuss Unlawful Termination

Employees who have been wrongfully terminated in or near San Francisco should ask for advice from an employment lawyer

Employers are entitled to make employment decisions that employees might regard as unreasonable or unfair, but they are not entitled to terminate employees for unlawful reasons.

At-Will Employment

Some employees have job protections because they belong to a union, are employed by the government in a civil service position, or have an employment contract that limits the reasons for which their employment can be terminated. Employees who do not have such protection are considered to be employed “at will.”

An at-will employee can be fired for any reason or for no reason, but cannot be fired for an unlawful reason. Unlawful terminations occur when at-will employees are discharged for unlawful reasons, some of which are discussed below.


Employment discrimination occurs when an employer makes decisions about its employees that are based on protected characteristics. These characteristics include, for example, sex, race, age, sexual orientation, and disability. Federal and California law prohibits employers from terminating employees because of their membership in such a protected class.


Federal and California laws prohibit employers from terminating their employees for engaging in certain protected activities. Those activities include:

  • Complaining about discrimination or harassment in the workplace, when the discrimination or harassment is based on an employee’s membership in a protected class (including race, sex, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and religion, among others).
  • Opposing discrimination or harassment in the workplace, including filing a claim with an administrative agency or a lawsuit with a court to seek a remedy for discrimination or harassment.
  • Refusing to submit to requests for sexual favors.
  • Refusing to carry out an order that the employee believes to be discriminatory.
  • Cooperating with an investigation of a discrimination or harassment claim.
  • Testifying in a legal proceeding that relates to a discrimination or harassment claim.
  • Making a complaint about a wage and hour violation (such as a failure to pay overtime).
  • Testifying in a legal proceeding that relates to wage and hour claims.
  • Requesting a medical leave or a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

A San Francisco employment attorney can review the specific circumstances of a termination and advise the employee whether the evidence of retaliation might entitle the employee to a remedy.


California has a strong law that protects whistleblowers. That law is in addition to certain federal protections available to employees who are fired after reporting an employer’s misconduct.

California law protects employees who provide information about an employer’s violation of the law, or an employer’s failure to comply with government regulations, if the complaint is made to:

  • A government agency.
  • A law enforcement agency.
  • A supervisor who has authority over the employee.
  • Another employee who is responsible for investigating such violations or noncompliance.

Examples of whistleblowing include:

  • Reporting that an employer is dumping used motor oil in a field in violation of environmental regulations.
  • Complaining about a safety violation to a state or federal agency that regulates workplace safety.
  • Informing federal authorities that a hospital that is falsifying Medicare billings.
  • Telling a consumer safety agency that an employer is concealing information about dangerous product defects.
  • Reporting an employer that is paying illegal kickbacks or bribes.

The law also protects employees who cooperate with an investigation or who testify in legal proceedings that relate to the employer’s misconduct.

Employees who are fired after reporting their employer’s wrongdoing to their employer or to a government agency or law enforcement authority should consult with a San Francisco employment lawyer to determine whether they are protected by whistleblower laws.

Violation of Public Policy

In some cases, a firing that does not fit into the categories discussed above will be recognized as a wrongful termination because the reason for the firing violates a clear public policy. Examples of terminations that may violate public policy include:

  • Firing an employee for refusing an employer’s order to commit a crime.
  • Firing an employee for refusing to cover up an employer’s violation of the law.
  • Firing an employee for refusing to disobey a law or regulation that protects public safety.
  • Firing an employee for taking an action that is required by mandatory rules that govern the employee’s profession.

An employment lawyer in San Francisco can help employees determine whether their termination violates a public policy.

Getting Help

The employment attorneys at San Francisco’s Minnis & Smallets have years of experience representing professional employees, executives, and other employees in wrongful termination cases. If you believe you were the victim of unlawful retaliation, were fired for being a whistleblower, or were discharged in violation of public policy, you can ask for legal advice by calling us at 1-415-551-0885 or by submitting our online contact form.

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