Employment in California is at-will, meaning that an employer may fire an employee for any reason, legitimate or not, so long as it is not discriminatory or retaliatory. A termination is discriminatory or retaliatory if it is based on a characteristic that is protected by law, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation. Termination is unlawful if it violates the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which is the state’s version of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. For instance, if a person makes a protected request to take time off from work under CFRA for one’s own personal medical condition or to care for a close family member with a medical condition, an employer may only terminate or refuse to reinstate that employee in extremely rare circumstances.

Employers who wrongfully terminate employees in California can try to argue that a lawsuit should be dismissed before it even goes to trial based on the absence of a material question of fact. However, California law does not favor these types of arguments, and claims of discrimination or retaliation often raise material questions of fact.

For example, one piece of evidence that could strongly support a wrongful termination claim would be if the termination happened very shortly after the employee engaged in protected activity, such as complaining about an illegal practice of the company or asking for CFRA leave. Even if an employer waits months before taking an adverse action against an employee, a court or arbitrator could still find that a question of fact exists as to whether the employer’s actions were substantially based on the employee’s protected activity.

If someone feels that he or she is being harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against at work, an employment law attorney can help that person assess whether the facts support a potential legal claim. An attorney can also assist individuals who were wrongfully terminated from their jobs or whose work conditions were so unbearable that they had no choice but to quit.