Have you ever wondered what would happen if you lost your job because you were in an accident and needed time off? What if a new manager was hired at your office and you suspect that he does not like you because of your ethnicity or skin color? Are you in a situation at work where another employee won't stop asking you out on a date and insists on making creepy comments about how attractive you are? Did you see something illegal happen at work like patient abuse and reported it but you were fired right after? Did you recently tell your boss that you are pregnant and you were let go because of this? What if you have a disability and you your boss denied your accommodation request? These are all unfortunate situations but many employees within the workplace endure such mistreatment. Where is the line drawn though and what rights do employees have? What rights does the employer have and how do their rights coexist with employee rights?
1. What is wrongful termination?
An Employment Attorney would be the type of legal professional to bring all of your employment related questions to, especially if you were fired. An Employment Attorney specializes in what is called wrongful termination. In California, an employee is considered as an at-will employee which means that the employee can be fired for any reason or for no reason at all. For example, your boss can fire you just because he or she does not like you, because you were late to a shift, they don't like the way you dress, they think you're annoying, or even they can even decide not to tell you at all the reason you why you were fired. Employers technically have the power to fire you without cause as long as they did not make the decision based on an illegal reason. Being fired for an illegal reason might be considered as wrongful termination.
Wrongful termination is basically where an employee is fired or let go from their job based on an illegal reason.
2. What is considered as an "illegal reason"?
We have touched on what kind of an employee employees are considered as in California and the "unless" of terminating an at-will employee. The "unless" applies to an illegal reason, but what does that mean? What is an illegal reason?
Some examples of an illegal reason would be if you were discriminated against based on your age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or marital status. There are employment laws that recognize certain characteristics and classes that are protected within the workplace in a particular way. For example, an employee over the age of 40 may be terminated, but prior to his or her termination, this particular employee may have experienced mistreatment at work such as negative comments made in regards to his or her age such as "You are getting too old for this job" or "Isn't it time for you to start thinking about retiring?". These comments that were made prior to the employee being let go or terminated may indicate that he or she was let go specifically because of his or her age. This all may result in a suit against the employer because employees over age 40 are considered a protected class and it is illegal for that employee to be fired because they are 40 or older.
Another example of discrimination would be if an employee was fired for a bogus reason, however, he or she felt as though it was because of their race. An employee may be able to prove this by providing evidence that he or she was passed over for employment opportunities that he or she was qualified for and this also happened to other employees who were also of the same race as this particular employee; this may establish a pattern of race discrimination within the workplace. Again this scenario may give rise to a claim of wrongful termination and discrimination if the employee was eventually fired.
Alternatively, an employee may be fired for what is considered as an illegal reason if they report sexual harassment and they are fired thereafter. Sexual harassment within the workplace is prohibited by law and therefore an employee is entitled to report any incidences of sexual harassment without being fired. For example, a male employee may witness another male manager sexually harassing other female employees and reports this to the Human Resources Department. Soon after the sexual harassment was reported to the Human Resources Department he was terminated without reason. Here, although his employer is not required by law to give a reason for terminating the employee, because it happened rights after the employee made the complaint, it may be considered wrongful termination.
Lastly, another example of wrongful termination may arise if an employee with a disability makes a request for accommodation and in response, the employee is fired. A request for accommodation should be met by an employer as long as it is reasonable.
These are all just examples of wrongful termination. Every case is different and requires a consultation with an Employment Attorney to discuss whether or not you have a wrongful termination case.
3. How do you know if you have a case?
As mentioned previously, every situation is different and the laws that govern wrongful termination are complex. The most efficient way to find out if you have a case is to contact an Employment Attorney. The Employment Attorney in your area may ask you questions such as how long you have been employed by your employer, were you fired, why you think you were fired and may need further information regarding past incidences that lead to your termination. By asking these questions the attorney can gather all the information and may be able to draw a conclusion as to whether you have a case and/or they may provide guidance on what you need to do next, such as filing for the right to sue.
In addition, should you deiced to contact a lawyer to discuss your potential case, you should reach out to an Employment Attorney who offers free consultations.