California employers enjoy a lot of freehand when it comes to the employer-employee relationship. This is mainly because California is an at-will employment state. Basically, this means that the employer can terminate the employment contract for any reason whatsoever or no reason at all.
However, California and federal laws prohibit employers from firing their employees for illegal reasons. Meaning, an employer cannot breach any of the terms of the contract while terminating you. If this happens, you may sue them for wrongful termination. But, what exactly is wrongful termination?
Defining wrongful termination
Also known as wrongful discharge or dismissal, wrongful termination happens when the employee’s dismissal from their role violates the state or federal laws or the stipulations of the employment contract.
Here are four instances when a dismissal might be deemed wrongful.
Breach of contract – this happens when the employer acts in a manner that contradicts the organization’s employee handbook. An example would be a situation where an employee is fired after the first warning even though the employee handbook states that the employees must appear before the disciplinary committee before dismissal.
Discrimination – Discrimination based on the employee’s gender, gender, disability, race, sexual preference and religion is illegal. An employer cannot fire an employee based on these characteristics.
Retaliation – An employer cannot dismiss you from your role for reporting an illegal activity (whistleblowing), exercising your legal rights or cooperating with authorities while investigating the employer for illegal or unethical activity.
Constructive dismissal – this happens when the employer manipulates the work environment with the goal of promoting an employee to quit their role. It can also involve changing employment terms without notifying the employee. Examples of constructive dismissal would be a pay cut, transfer to another work location or demotion without adequate justification.
Employees are protected from wrongful dismissal by both state and federal laws. Find out how you can pursue your rights when you are wrongfully dismissed at work.