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How Do I Know if I Have Been Wrongfully Terminated?

wrongfully terminatedWrongful termination refers to firing an employee in a way that violates the law or a contract of employment. If you’ve recently been let go from your former position, you may wonder if the decision was legally sound.

As you reflect on the events leading up to your termination, you might discover that the reason for your dismissal wasn’t as legitimate as it seemed at the moment, or legitimate at all. If this is the case, you’ll need a lawyer by your side to help you defend your rights.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at wrongful termination in California and sharing the facts you need to know to protect yourself.

The Reason Isn’t Clear

Does it seem as though your employer fired you for no reason or for a reason that they did not explain to you? This experience can be jarring for anyone, but it’s especially upsetting when there seems to be no just cause behind the action.

If you’ve shown up at the workplace, put in your best effort, and met your performance goals, you’ll understandably be surprised by a firing. While companies may need to perform occasional layoffs to conserve costs, your employer should be honest with you about that situation rather than leave you guessing.

Ideally, you should receive a dismissal letter or other form of communication from your employer that states the reason for your termination. If you don’t receive this document, you have a legal right to request it in person. Points of contact who can provide this information (or direct you to someone who can) include:

  • Your supervisor
  • The human resources department

You Were Fired After Reporting Illegal Activities

You should feel comfortable speaking up if you notice that your employer or co-workers are engaging in any type of dangerous or illegal activities. You shouldn’t feel that your job might be in jeopardy for raising these issues.

If you were terminated after reporting such actions, it could indicate a wrongful termination.  Just a couple examples could be if your employer fires you after you report another employee is stealing money from the cash register, or after you report a team leader is failing to address a documented fire hazard.

Whistleblowing isn’t just a moral obligation — It’s also a protected act. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces whistleblower protection laws that prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who file a complaint or exercise any of their other rights when learning about illegal activity or behavior at work.

You Were Fired After Reporting (or Refusing) Harassment

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that one in five employees has experienced some type of physical, psychological, or sexual harassment at work. If you’re the victim of harassment and you decide to report those actions, firing you after can be an illegal retaliatory act.

The same applies to any employee who refuses any type of harassment. For instance, say your supervisor makes sexual advances toward you and you refuse to reciprocate. If their next action is to fire you, that can be wrongful termination. When this happens, it’s legally referred to as wrongful termination due to retaliation or retribution.

You Were Fired Based on Other Protected Acts

In addition to whistleblowing, there are other protected acts that can apply to your termination. These typically refer to wage and hour rights most employees have – seeking to have these rights respected should not be a basis for firing someone.

Common examples include:

  • Taking necessary breaks
  • Asking for time off to care for a family member
  • Being sick

Sick leave and family leave are legal rights for many employees. Additionally, pregnancy is considered a protected class and it’s typically wrongful for an employer to terminate someone because her pregnancy requires her to take more frequent breaks or require extra assistance.

It’s also considered wrongful for an employer to terminate a pregnant woman before she goes out for maternity leave, simply because they want to fill that role in the interim. If you’re fired for engaging in any of these protected activities, you may have been wrongfully terminated.

You Were the Victim of Discrimination

wrongful termination discrimination lawyersLegally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. California prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of numerous other protected classes as well. However, that doesn’t mean that this type of wrongful action doesn’t occur by employers. Employers may make an unfair firing decision based on a distinguishing characteristic of an employee. Examples include:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Veteran status
  • Pregnancy status

In certain instances, companies won’t even let applicants get through the gate if they display traits or features they deem undesirable. They may refuse to hire certain people based on their actions or appearances, often claiming other decision-making factors instead.

If they do hire them, they may purposefully leave them out of meetings, training sessions, and events so they can’t advance their careers. They may also give them undesirable projects or difficult clients to discourage them. If you believe you’re experiencing any form of discrimination at work, it’s important to document each instance for future reference, especially if those actions culminate in a termination.

Can I Sue For Wrongful Termination? 

If you believe you were fired on a wrongful basis, you may be able to take legal action. However, it’s important to have legal counsel by your side if you decide to do so. Employment laws vary by state, and it’s important to understand the full context of why you were terminated.

To successfully sue for wrongful termination, you must be able to prove that the termination violated a certain law or the terms of your employment contract. It isn’t enough to simply consider it unfair. An employment attorney can review your case and determine the next steps you need to take as you move forward.

Are You Facing Wrongful Termination in California?

A workplace termination can be incredibly disheartening. It’s even more difficult when you believe the reason behind your firing isn’t justifiable.

If you’re facing a wrongful termination in California, reach out to us. At Matern Law Group, our team specializes in every aspect of employment law, from workplace discrimination and harassment to termination and retaliation. We’ll help you understand and fight for your rights, working hard to get you the outcome you deserve.

To learn more and schedule a consultation, contact us today.

Employment Law Blog

Is It Illegal, or Just Unfair?

Legal cases can be lengthy, complicated, and confusing, but you don’t have to take on the system all by yourself. If you believe someone has violated your individual rights, or the rights of a large group of people in your community, we can help you find the right course of action.

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