Employment law can be confusing, and for many employees in California, it can seem one-sided in favor of employers. Being fired from a job can be a traumatic experience that leads to personal and economic uncertainty. While many employers base their firing decisions on pragmatic concerns and give underperforming employees multiple chances to improve, they ultimately have the right to terminate employment at their discretion. If you have recently lost your job and are unsure whether the firing was lawful, it’s essential to understand the state’s at-will employment law and related laws that may pertain to your case.
Most employment in California functions on an at-will basis. This means the working relationship between an employee and their employer exists at will. Both parties have the right to end the relationship at any time, for any reason or no reason at all, and they are not required to provide advance notice. For example, while it is typically considered good form for an employee to give two weeks’ notice before leaving their job, there is no legal requirement to do so. Similarly, an employer is under no legal obligation to warn an employee before terminating their employment.
At-will employment is widely decried as unfair toward employees. The justification behind at-will employment statutes is that it prevents employees from being compelled to remain in abusive positions or hostile work environments. However, many employees assert that the at-will employment standard is abusive, providing employers with complete freedom to fire employees for any reason and to use the at-will employment law as justification for illegal firings.
Not all employees are subject to at-will employment. Some employees have contracts with their employers, and these contracts will typically stipulate the terms under which the employment agreement will end. An employment contract should make both parties’ rights and expectations perfectly clear. The contract should also outline prior notice policies for both the employer and the employee. This means the contract should clearly state whether advance notice is required for either party to terminate the work agreement.
Employers also may not violate their own company policies regarding terminating employees without warning. For example, if your employer’s company handbook states that all employees must be given two weeks of notice before termination, then you should expect at least two weeks of advance notice if your employer decides to terminate your employment. However, these policies typically leave room for disciplinary infractions and other specific incidents that would lead to immediate termination.
Wrongful termination claims are often difficult to navigate, and some employees may be unaware that their recent terminations were wrongful. Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for retaliation or discrimination. Wrongful termination can also occur if an employer fires an employee in breach of the employee’s contract or the employer’s own company policy.
When an employer knowingly engages in wrongful termination, they are likely to use at-will employment as a shield whenever possible. However, if an employee is not subject to at-will employment rules, the employer must have reasonable justification to terminate employment. Therefore, if you are unsure whether a recent firing qualifies as wrongful termination, you should secure as much evidence as possible regarding the situation and bring it to an experienced California employment law attorney.
If an employee believes their recent termination was unlawful, they should consult an experienced employment lawyer as quickly as possible to start building a wrongful termination claim. These cases are unlike most other civil claims in that the plaintiff cannot directly sue the defendant immediately. Instead, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) must investigate the claim to determine whether the termination was indeed wrongful. If the EEOC investigates and determines the claimant has a valid case, they will provide the claimant with the formal legal notice that allows them to file a civil suit against their employer.
A successful wrongful termination claim can yield compensation for lost income and emotional distress for the plaintiff and prevent others from experiencing similar treatment from the employer in the future. The EEOC may also fine the employer or impose other penalties for violating federal and state laws.
Q: What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in California?
A: A wrongful termination is any termination of employment that violates California state law or the laws of the EEOC. Retaliation for legally protected actions, illegal discrimination, and other disputes can lead to wrongful termination claims. An experienced employment lawyer can assist a recently terminated employee to determine whether their firing was lawful.
Q: What Types of Lawyers Handle Wrongful Termination Cases?
A: An employment attorney is a legal professional specializing in employment-related disputes. If you believe you have a wrongful termination case in California, you need to secure representation from a seasoned employment law attorney who has experience handling wrongful termination cases similar to yours.
Q: Can an Employer Fire You Without Warning?
A: Technically, the at-will employment law of California allows companies to fire employees whenever they wish, and there is no legal obligation to provide the employee with advance notice. However, if an employee has a contract with their employer, the contract is likely to include stipulations regarding notice of termination and acceptable grounds for termination.
Q: How Can I Fire an Employee Legally in California?
A: Hiring and firing are expensive for any business, so employers should weigh termination decisions carefully. California’s at-will employment law allows companies to fire an employee whenever they wish. However, there can be no illegal motivation behind the firing, such as discrimination or retaliation against a protected action.
The Azadian Law Group, PC, can provide the meticulous and aggressive legal counsel you need if you have recently experienced a wrongful termination. We understand that many people in this position feel lost and uncertain when it comes to how they can hold their employers accountable for wrongful termination, especially in the face of seemingly one-sided laws like at-will employment. Whatever your situation entails, we can help you determine your best options for legal recourse. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and get the answers you need concerning wrongful termination and breach of employment contract in California.