Employment at will is the standard in California. It means that an employer can fire you at any time, for any reason; just not an illegal reason. It also means that you can quit at any time, without any reason. The exceptions to employment at will are when you have a union membership, are a government worker, or when you have a contract for employment (like a professional athlete) that has a certain term of employment.
What Does Wrongful Termination Mean?
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires you for any illegal reason. It could be discrimination, retaliation, harassment, or because you engaged in some sort of protected activity, like complaining about overtime pay, unsafe conditions at work, or illegal activity on the part of the employer.
What Is Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination occurs when you are being treated differently than other employees, based on your membership in a protected class. There are many protected classes in California, including race, religion, national origin, physical disability, mental disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, and even military or veteran status.
For example, many employers have decided that it is cost effective for them to fire pregnant women. These kinds of actions by an employer are completely illegal and should be responded to with a lawsuit against the employer for wrongful termination based on pregnancy discrimination. Similarly, many employers have engaged in a practice of firing their disabled employees, or those employees who utilize FMLA leave. Usually the employer will claim poor performance on the part of the employee. Our job then becomes proving this is merely a lie, which is called a pretext for disability discrimination.
You don’t even have to be terminated to suffer employment discrimination, you could just be demoted, placed on a horrible schedule or suffer a reduction in pay or a cut in your hours. Many times, your employer will give its reason for these adverse actions. We must prove that the reason given by the employer is false, and that discrimination was the real reason for your adverse employment action.
What Is Retaliation?
Retaliation is when the employer takes an adverse action against you because you’ve done something that the employer does not like. Often this is because you’ve complained that your employer is not paying your overtime correctly, or because you took FMLA leave, or because you complained about harassment or about unsafe work conditions. Another type of retaliation is when you make a protected complaint about illegal actions taken by the employer. The action you complain about doesn’t actually have to be illegal. If you refuse to participate and you believe in good faith that it is illegal, and you are fired as a result of your refusal, that could be retaliation. Retaliation is one of the easiest things to prove, based on the time between your action and the employer’s reaction. If you do something and the next week you are fired, that is pretty good evidence that what you did caused your termination, especially if previously you had a spotless disciplinary record. On the other hand, retaliation claims grow stale very quickly. Sometimes the employer waits a while before they terminate. If they wait over three months, retaliation becomes much harder to prove. However, if during those three months, or even six, the employer begins a campaign of written discipline for things which are normally overlooked, the retaliation claim becomes easier to prove. Each time you receive discipline you believe is wrong, in the space just above where the employer asks for your signature, there is usually room for employee comments. Use that space to say that you dispute the disciplinary write-up and why. For example, you might write, “Ever since I’ve returned to work from my FMLA leave, I have been written up for things which were previously acceptable.” Retaliation should always be fought back against with a lawsuit.
For more information on Employment At Will In California, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (562) 630-1500 today.