When you’ve been unjustly fired from your place of employment, you may feel a lot of powerful emotions: anger at the injustice, disappointment in your employer, and insecurity about the future. Federal and state laws offer employee protections in these circumstances, but navigating the process can seem overwhelming. A wrongful termination lawyer can help you navigate the ins and outs of state and federal labor laws for renewed peace of mind about your circumstances.
Who Should Hire a Wrongful Termination Lawyer?
Anyone who feels that their employer has fired them illegally or unjustly should contact a lawyer to determine their rights. For example, California law includes over 50 sections in the labor code that specifically protect workers from discrimination and retaliation, two illegal causes of wrongful termination. A wrongful termination lawyer can address your specific circumstances to determine whether your former employer broke any state or federal laws.
What Is At-Will Employment?
Most employers in the United States are considered “at-will” employers. If you don’t have an employment contract, you are an at-will employee, which means that your employer can fire you for any legal reason. Along the same lines, your employer faces no consequences for changing the terms of your employment for any reason and at any time. In other words, your employer is permitted to modify or terminate your benefits, alter your pay or decrease your paid time off at their discretion.
However, not all reasons for terminating or changing your employment are legal. For instance, your employer cannot dismiss or demote you in retaliation for whistleblowing or because of your sex or race.
How To Determine If Your Firing Was Unlawful
Employers must abide by federal and state laws concerning your employment relationship, including firing practices, even if you are an at-will employee. Below are some of the most common and egregious examples of improper employer behaviors, but consider contacting a wrongful termination lawyer even if you don’t see your situation. You may learn that your firing was unjust and that it fits into one of these categories.
Breach of Employment Contract
The simplest form of wrongful termination occurs when an employer fails to adhere to the promises of an employment contract. These types of contracts are legally binding agreements between an employee and an employer regarding the employment terms. Most are written, but some contracts are oral or implied agreements. Implied agreements may arise from statements made in an employee handbook or elsewhere in employer documentation.
Any time that an employer breaks an employment contract, whether written, verbal or implied, the employee potentially has grounds for a lawsuit. A wrongful termination lawyer can review your documentation to determine if the employer has failed to live up to its end of the bargain and if you have a solid legal case for damages.
Members of a protected class received named protections against discrimination under federal law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lists eight characteristics protected against employment discrimination under U.S. law:
- Race, including traits historically associated with race such as hair texture and style
- Religion, including grooming and clothing choices
- Sex, including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity
- National origin, including language facility
- Genetic information
California law aligns with and expands this federal list even further adding marital status, Family and Medical Leave Act requests, pregnancy disability leave and retaliation for reports of patient abuse in tax-supported institutions. If you feel that your termination is a result of discrimination based on your status in a protected class, you should contact a wrongful termination lawyer right away.
Violation of FMLA Rights
The FMLA protects employees requesting a leave of absence for medical or family reasons. The latter includes situations such as the birth or adoption of a child and caring for ill or injured family members.
Employers may not retaliate against or interfere with the exercise of employee rights under FMLA guidelines; refusing those protected privileges or improperly firing an employee who uses their FMLA rights is a prosecutable offense. A wrongful termination lawyer investigates employer actions around this type of discrimination to ascertain whether you are eligible for damages.
Violation of Public Policy
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act offers specific protections against employers who terminate their employees in violation of public policy. Employees who exercise their legal rights and responsibilities are protected from unlawful discharge when they:
- Perform a legal obligation, such as serving on a jury
- Refuse to break the law at the employer’s request, whether stated or implied
- Exercise a legal right or privilege such as FMLA leave
- Report a violation or potential violation of important laws, also known as whistleblowing
These actions are exempt from California’s at-will labor rules. When an employer fires you for adhering to state or federal law, or for requesting to exercise your protected rights, a wrongful termination lawyer helps you to pursue your case in court.
Retaliation for Whistleblowing
Although employer retaliation for whistleblowing is a violation of public policy, it’s worth a closer look. A whistleblower is an employee who discloses information to the authorities about violations of federal or state statutes, noncompliance or violation of local, state or federal regulations or rules, or unsafe working practices or conditions.
Whistleblowers may share that information with their supervisor, a fellow employee with investigative authority, law enforcement or a government agency. Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers from improper actions by current or former employers, including:
- Retaliation for whistleblowing in current employment
- Creation, adoption or enforcement of rules, regulations or policies to prevent employees from becoming whistleblowers
- Retaliation for having exercised their rights as a whistleblower in previous employment
When To Contact a Wrongful Termination Lawyer
If you’ve been dismissed from your job for unclear reasons, talk to a wrongful termination lawyer so that you don’t have to struggle to find answers alone. At Matern Law Group, we can determine whether your employer violated your rights under federal and California labor laws. Then, we work tenaciously to set things right for you.
With offices in seven locations and the ability to serve you anywhere in California, Matern Law Group can help you wherever you are. Reach out to us to find out how we can help you move forward after a confusing and upsetting termination experience.