A protected activity is an action an employee may take without danger of being lawfully fired for it. Protected activities include:
- Complaining about overtime pay, unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions, or illegal actions by your employer
- Obeying the law
- Reporting a violation of the law
- Exercising a legal or constitutional right
However, there are also times when an employee feels they have been wrongfully terminated, but the employer has not in fact violated employment laws.
To know the difference in your particular situation, it is important to seek the advice of a wrongful termination attorney and have your case evaluated. Our law firm provides a free consultation to prospective clients.
Does my employer need to say why I was fired?
Believe it or not, your employer is not required by law to explain why you were fired.
While an explanation is usually given, employers often lie. If the real reason for your termination is not legal, your employer will usually refuse to give a reason or make one up. Typical made-up reasons are “poor performance” or “policy violation.”
If your employer invented a false reason for firing you, or if co-workers who do the same thing are not usually fired, this invented reason is called pretext. Pretext is a false reason provided by the employer to justify an unlawful termination. Here are some examples:
- Your employer refuses to explain its reason for your termination, and you just returned from a four month medical leave, we should strongly suspect the termination was due to your physical or mental disability.
- You were fired shortly after your pregnancy had just started to show. We can reasonably assume termination was due to your pregnancy.
- You were sexually harassed prior to being fired. Here we can infer termination was due to your refusal to consent to further harassment.
- You were fired after complaining about workplace safety, pointing out an illegal practice, or asking for your overtime pay. It is likely your termination was an act of retaliation by your employer.
When your employer does give a reason for your termination, it’s helpful if you already know or suspect the real reason. However, if the real reason is not obvious to you, a wrongful termination lawyer can help you uncover the truth.
During your free consultation, we can usually determine whether or not an illegal reason factored into your termination. After listening to your story, we will ask a series of questions to identify events or circumstances during the last few months of your employment which may have provoked your employer to terminate you.
Oftentimes, employers fire an employee for reasons unclear to the employee, but very well-known to employment lawyers. One example is employees who take intermittent FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) leave. While employers are required by law to provide FMLA leave, it is often very inconvenient for them to do so. Because they cannot legally tell the employee that FMLA leave was the reason for termination, employers often come up with a false reason that’s not illegal — in other words, a pretext.
If you feel your employer may have used a pretext for firing you, take the first step toward getting the compensation you deserve by contacting a wrongful termination lawyer at Wrongful Termination Law Group today.
What is at-will employment in California?
Employment in California is at-will, which means that your employer can fire you at any time, for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal. It also allows you to quit at any time, and for any reason, without needing to explain why.
At-will employees are often surprised to learn that at-will employment gives employers freedom to fire employees they feel are underperforming, or to fire staff when an economic downturn forces the company to downsize.
Just as consumers have the right to select and return purchases, at-will employment grants similar rights to employers regarding the hiring and firing of employees.
Exceptions to at-will employment arise when you:
- Have a union membership
- Are a government worker
- Have an employment contract specifying the duration of your employment (as with many professional athletes, for example)
Naturally, the at-will rule does not allow employers to fire employees for reasons that are illegal. If you suspect your firing was not legal, contact the experienced employment lawyers at Wrongful Termination Law Group for a free consultation.
Wrongful termination in violation of public policy
In California, you cannot be fired from your job for reasons that violate public policy or employment laws.
Violation of public policy means that a firing or discharge, while not technically illegal, has breached one or more fundamental public policy guidelines. In practice, this means that public policy protects employees from being fired in certain situations.
These situations commonly include:
Wrongful termination for performing a legal obligation
If you are required to perform a task by law, your employer may not terminate or otherwise discipline you for rightfully acting to obey the law.
Wrongful termination for refusing to break the law
If an employer tells you to perform a task which you know is illegal, and you refuse to do so, you cannot be fired for refusing to break the law. If you are fired for such a reason, your employee rights have been violated, and you are a victim of a wrongful discharge.
Wrongful termination for reporting a violation of a law
If you believe that your employer has violated the law, you can report the employer without fear of being fired. This includes reporting violations of health and safety regulations. All that matters is that your report was made in good faith. It does not matter if your violation report later turns out to be imprecise.
Wrongful termination for exercising a legal or constitutional right
If you have a legal right to participate in a certain type of activity (for example, political association or freedom of speech), your employer cannot terminate or otherwise discipline you for engaging in that activity.
If you are fired under such circumstances, you are likely the victim of a wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. To take the first step in your case, call Wrongful Termination Law Group for your free consultation today.