Wrongful Termination in California
California is an “at will” state, meaning that employers have the right to hire and fire individuals at will, without any real reason or explanation (so long as the reason was not illegal, such as race, gender, etc.). If you have been fired from your job in California, the best thing you can do is pick yourself up off your feet and start searching for a new one. However, if you feel you have been wrongfully terminated, and if you are sure that what the company did was illegal, seeking the help of a San Francisco Bay Area business and employment lawyer may be in your best interest, as we can help you determine what is grounds for wrongful termination and what is not.
Grounds for a Wrongful Termination Suit in San Francisco, California
Even though the state of California is an at-will state, there are several instances in which a termination is illegal. If one or more of the following factors applies to you, you may have a wrongful termination suit on your hands:
A Written Promise Was Broken
If your employer signed a written promise or contract specifically promising you ongoing job security, technically you are not an at-will employee. Should you be fired from a position in which such a contract exists, the termination will only stand if you were fired for a reason outlined in the contract or written promise. Otherwise, you have a strong case against your former employer.
Moreover, a written promise does not have to be in the form of a signed contract. If your employer continually sent you letters, memos, or emails promising you job security, you could use them in court should you be let-go unexpectedly and without good reason.
An Implied Promise Was Broken
An implied promise is just as binding as a written promise in the business world, as employers are held up to much stricter standards than the general population. While difficult to prove, if you can prove that an employer implied job security, implied continued employment, or implied “permanent employment,” then you have just as strong of a case against them should they fire you had they signed a written agreement with such promises.
Because it is hard to prove an implied promise, the courts will look at the following:
- The duration of your employment;
- Regularity of job promotions;
- History of positive performance reviews;
- Assurances of continued employment;
- The way in which the employer fired you (did they give you warnings, or fire you out of nowhere?); and
- Whether or not promises of long-term employment were made upon hire.
Breaches of Good Faith
If your employer fired you unfairly – such as firing you to avoid paying you commission, misleading you about a promotion, or firing you so that they can replace you for someone willing to take a lower wage, you have a case against them. You can also build a case against an employer if they hyped up a job when in actuality, the position would send you through dangerous neighborhoods, or have you dealing with bad people. Last but not least, if an employer tries to coerce an employee to quit – such as by cutting their hours, giving them undesirable assignments not in their job description, or sending them to undesirable locations to conduct business – in order to avoid giving them severance pay or other benefits, then this would also be considered a breach of good faith.
Violations of Public Policy
No matter what state you reside in, an employer cannot fire you for reasons that the rest of society recognizes as illegitimate grounds for termination, such as firing an employee for:
- Taking time off for jury duty;
- Taking time off to vote;
- Taking maternity leave;
- Serving in the military and/or National Guard; or
- Whistleblowing in instances of wrongdoing to the public and/or employees.
Before you can sue your employer for any of the above, courts must require that there be a specific law outlining the public policy.
Employers cannot fire an employee for any illegal reasons, and discrimination is illegal. Discrimination would constitute as firing an individual because of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, pregnancy, religion, and the like. If you were fired because of discriminatory reasons, you have grounds for a lawsuit. However, there are steps you have to take before suing your former employer for discrimination, which an experienced employment attorney can help you with.
An employer cannot fire you because they are “mad at you” for engaging in any legally protected activities, such as filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You must be able to prove that you were fired on grounds of retaliation in order for it to stand in court. For example, if you were fired just after your employer found out about the complaint, or if they started to coerce you to quit just after finding out about a charge against them, then it is very likely they acted out of retaliation. However, if you filed the charge six months ago and are just now firing you, you will have a much more difficult time proving retaliation was the cause of termination.
Defamation is probably one of the worst things that an employer can do to an employee who was fired, as it can hurt an individual’s chances of finding future employment. Defamation consists of making false accusations about you and tarnishing your reputation within and without the company. If defamation was a part of your termination, you can take the employer to court and receive just compensation.
Retain the Help of a Bay Area Employment Attorney
At Garcia & Gurney, ALC, we represent businesses and employees in Northern California in litigating employer-employee disputes. If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated, contact our San Francisco Bay Area employment attorneys today at 925-468-0400 or online to schedule your consultation.