Under California and Federal employment laws employers are prohibited from terminating their employees for discrimination, retaliation, or any other unlawful reason.
California is an “at-will” state. This means that an employer can terminate an employee for almost any reason so long as the employer has not violated a statute or public policy. For instance, if an employer simply doesn’t like an employee, the employer is free to terminate the relationship for any reason, so long as that reason is not unlawful.
The comprehensive workplace protections provided to employees by both California and Federal law are in place to govern the circumstances under which an employee may be terminated legally. As such, these laws also provide employees a way of knowing how and when they are being terminated for an unlawful reason.
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides California’s guidelines. FEHA offers some of the strongest protections against wrongful termination for employees. These laws make it illegal for employers to make employment decisions for several different discriminatory reasons. These reasons include but are not limited to an employee’s:
- Mental or Physical Disability
- Sexual Orientation
- Sexual Identity
If the reasons above were motivating factors in an employee’s termination, even if only partially, the termination is illegal under the law.
Additionally, employees are protected by exercising certain rights which the law grants. Taking time off of work due to a medical leave or pregnancy cannot be a reason why an employer terminates you. It is also illegal to terminate an employee because he or she reported the employer’s illegal conduct or illegal and unsafe working conditions to government authorities. California is perhaps the state that offers the most protections for employees, giving them many potential bases for retaliation claims. An employee fired for exercising a right granted by law may have a claim against their employer.
Employees who have been wrongfully terminated, and after having exhausted their administrative remedies, have the right to file a lawsuit and seek monetary compensation. They may be able to recover economic damages such as past and future wages, emotional damages, and when the employer’s actions have been extremely malicious or reprehensible, punitive damages may be awarded by the injured party as well. For answers to your particular questions, you should consult an attorney who specializes in employment discrimination for advice. You may also contact the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for information at 1-800-884-1684.
No one should be wrongfully terminated at work. If you believe that you are a victim of wrongful termination, contact us for a free consultation and let Hicks & Hicks fight for your employment rights.