Most California employees can be terminated from their employment at any time. In other words, they are at-will employees. This status gives employees few rights when it comes to termination. This means that most employers have the right to fire an employee for any or no reason. However, California and federal employment laws prevent an employee from being terminated for a few illegal reasons. If one of these illegal reasons is used to terminate an employee, then a wrongful termination has occurred.
One illegal reason to fire a California employee is in retaliation. In other words, an employer cannot fire an employee in retaliation for asserting the employee's legal rights or complaining about mistreatment such as sexual harassment. Additionally, retaliation includes retaliating against an employee for reporting illegal conduct, or violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace safety rules.
Another reason for termination that could constitute a wrongful termination is discrimination. Under federal employee laws, it is illegal for employers to take certain factors into account when terminating a person. These factors include a person's sexual orientation, age, race, gender, pregnancy status, religion or national origin. Using one of these factors as a reason to terminate someone could constitute a wrongful termination.
Other public policy rules can also apply when it comes to wrongful termination including firing someone for whistleblowing, or because the person refused to participate in illegal activity. These rules tend to vary state to state.
California workers should be aware of the reasons that could make a termination wrongful. If a wrongful termination has occurred, people may be entitled to compensation. Therefore, people should seek legal guidance if they believe an illegal reason was used in their termination.
Source: Findlaw.com, "Wrongful Termination Laws: Illegal Reasons," accessed Sept. 8, 2014