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Can California employees fight a seemingly wrongful termination?

On Behalf of | Aug 24, 2023 | Employment Law |

When a worker in California accepts a job offer, they generally enter an at-will employment arrangement with the business that hires them. The company and the worker both theoretically have the right to terminate their employment agreement at any point and for any reason whatsoever.

There are no legal consequences for a worker to quit without notice, and businesses generally don’t need to provide a justification for terminating a worker. However, employers do need to abide by the contracts that they sign with their employees and they must also avoid violating employment laws. Although companies can fire workers for almost any reason, it is still possible for a termination to constitute a violation of someone’s rights.

What makes a termination wrongful?

Both losing a job or being part of a layoff could potentially constitute wrongful termination. An individual’s circumstances and their relationship with the employer will determine whether or not the company violated their rights by ending their employment. For example, it is lawful for a company experiencing a drop in profits to lay off a large number of workers to try to bring the company’s finances out of the red. When choosing who to retain and who to terminate, the company should look at factors like job performance or seniority, not at protected activity and characteristics.

Sometimes, a termination is wrongful because it amounts to discrimination. The company lets a worker go because of a protected characteristic like race, age or sex. Other times, a termination is wrongful because it is an act of retaliation. Retaliatory firings might happen after someone asks for accommodations because of an injury, after they report misconduct within the company or after they attempt to unionize with their coworkers. Oftentimes, it will either be a pattern in the company’s termination decisions or the timing of someone’s firing that will differentiate a legal layoff or termination from a wrongful one.

How can workers fight back?

Those who believe that their termination was wrongful may potentially have grounds to file a lawsuit. In some cases, the civil courts may order a company to reinstate an employee fired as an act of retaliation. Other times, the courts might order compensation for the affected individual because of their lost wages and the impact the termination may have on their future career prospects.

Understanding what may constitute wrongful termination could help people fight back when an employer engages in unlawful conduct related to a firing or lay-off scenario.