Being terminated from your job can be a distressing experience, especially if you believe the termination was unfair or unlawful. Understanding your rights as an employee and knowing when you have grounds to sue your employer for wrongful termination is crucial.
At-Will Employment in California
California follows the doctrine of “at-will” employment, which means that in the absence of a specific contract or agreement, the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, as long as it is not unlawful. However, this does not mean employers have unrestricted power to fire employees without consequences.
Grounds for Wrongful Termination Lawsuits
California law provides protections to employees, and termination based on the following reasons may be grounds for a wrongful termination claim:
Employees cannot be fired due to their race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristic.
You may have a case for wrongful termination if you were terminated as a result of exercising your legal rights, such as filing a complaint of harassment or discrimination, reporting workplace safety violations, or participating in a whistleblowing activity.
Breach of Contract
If you had an employment contract that specified the terms and conditions of your employment, and your employer terminated you in violation of those terms, you may be able to sue for breach of contract.
Violation of Public Policy
If your termination goes against fundamental public policy, such as firing you for refusing to engage in illegal activities or reporting criminal conduct, you may be able to pursue a wrongful termination claim.
Steps to Take if You Believe You Were Wrongfully Terminated
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, it is critical to take certain steps to protect your rights and build a strong case:
- Document everything: Keep records of any incidents or actions that may support your claim, including emails, performance evaluations, witness statements, or any other relevant information related to your termination.
- Consult an employment attorney: Seek advice from an experienced Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer as soon as possible. They can assess your situation, review your evidence, and guide you through the legal process.
- File a complaint: An administrative complaint must typically be filed with the appropriate government agency before you are given a “right to sue” letter. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
- Negotiate or pursue legal action: Your attorney will help you determine the best course of action, which may involve negotiating a settlement with your employer or filing a lawsuit in court.
In Los Angeles, you only have two or three years from the date of your termination to sue your employer, depending on the reason why the firing was unlawful. For example, wrongful termination lawsuits on the grounds of public policy violations have a two-year limit, whereas the statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims related to being a whistleblower under Labor Code 1102.5 is three years. Therefore, it is critical to be aware of the deadline in your case, because if it is missed, you will likely lose your right to pursue a lawsuit and recover compensation.