Losing a job can be a distressing experience, especially if you believe you were wrongfully terminated. Wrongful termination occurs when an employer dismisses an employee without just cause or in violation of the law. If you find yourself in this situation, it is crucial to understand your rights and how to determine whether you were wrongfully terminated.
Review Employment Laws
Before evaluating your termination, familiarize yourself with California’s employment laws. California follows the doctrine of at-will employment, which means that employers generally have the right to terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all as long as it is not unlawful. However, there are important exceptions to this rule. California recognizes various grounds for wrongful termination, such as the following:
- Breach of Contract: When an employment contract is in place, whether written or oral, it may specify the terms under which employment can be terminated. If an employer terminates an employee in violation of these terms, it can be considered wrongful termination or breach of contract. However, spoken promises are much more difficult to prove.
- Discrimination: Employees cannot be fired based on race, sexual orientation, country of origin, age, disability, gender, and religion. These and others are considered “protected classes,” established in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1984).
- Retaliation: It is illegal for employers to terminate employees because they exercised their state or federal rights—for example, filing a complaint (e.g., unsafe business practices, sexual harassment) or alerting authorities about unlawful business practices (whistleblowing).
- Policy Violations: It is against the law for an employer to terminate an employee for engaging in acts protected by public policies, such as jury duty, voting, or serving in the military.
Look Over Your Employment Contract
Carefully examine your employment contract, including any provisions related to termination. Determine whether your employer violated any terms or if they terminated your employment without good cause. Even in the absence of a written agreement, California recognizes implied employment contracts. Suppose an employer makes oral or written promises regarding job security, disciplinary procedures, or termination only for cause. In that case, a court may find that an implied contract exists, and termination without following those terms may be considered wrongful.
Assess the Circumstances
Evaluate the circumstances surrounding your termination. Consider whether any discriminatory factors played a role. It could indicate wrongful termination if you believe you were targeted due to any protected characteristics or in retaliation.
Compile any evidence that supports your claim of wrongful termination. This may include emails, performance evaluations, witness statements, company policies, or other relevant documents. Evidence demonstrating a sudden change in treatment, conflicting justifications for termination, or a lack of due process can strengthen your case.
Seek Legal Advice
Speak to a Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer as soon as possible. They can assess the merits of your case, review the evidence, help you understand your rights, and guide you through the legal process.
File a Formal Complaint
Before filing a lawsuit, the first step in pursuing a wrongful termination case is to file a formal complaint with the appropriate state or federal agencies. For example, depending on which law has been violated, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The agency will investigate and attempt to resolve the situation or may give you the right to sue. Your employment lawyer can help you navigate this process and ensure you follow the necessary steps to protect your rights.