"Wrongful Termination" is a term that generally refers to a person being fired when they shouldn't have been. Other similar terms include wrongful dismissal and wrongful discharge and they generally refer to the same issue as wrongful termination. It can be a very misleading phrase. Many terminations that people think of as "wrongful" aren't illegal. Just because an employee thinks that they have been wrongfully terminated doesn't mean that an employer has violated any laws. So how do you know if you may have a wrongful termination lawsuit? To be honest, the law is complicated and it can be hard to sift through the myriad of wrongful termination laws at the federal, state and local levels. Sometimes these laws may even seem contradictory. The best thing to do is to contact a qualified wrongful termination attorney who can listen to the facts of your situation and help you assess whether or not you have a case. The Law Offices of David H. Greenberg has experienced employment lawyers who know the law and can help. Call us for a free consultation toll free at 1-888-204-1014. We are also providing some basic information on wrongful termination below.
In California and most other states, employment is "at will". This means that the employer can fire the employee for no reason or any reason. Most employees are surprised to learn this, but "at will" employment gives employers the freedom to fire the employees that they feel are no longer performing, or if due to economic reasons they need to cut headcount. If you think about it, we as consumers have the right to choose which products we purchase or return, and in a way, that is the same for employers for "at will" employment. But this rule does not apply in all circumstances. Employers are not allowed to violate employment laws, and therefore they cannot fire an employee if it is discrimination or if it violates a contract.
There are a few exceptions to this general rule:
Employers cannot discriminate against employees are the basis of age, race, sex, national origin, disability, and a variety of other reasons. Employers cannot discriminate against an employee because he or she has "whistle blown" which is reporting illegal activity of the employer. They also cannot discriminate against an employee for engaging in other protected activities, such as filing workers' compensation claims.
If an employer fires an employee because of one of these factors, that is against the law, and the employee can sue.
If any employee has a contract with the employer, the employee probably cannot be fired without just cause. Contracts can be written or implied (See section on Breach of Contract). A common way for an employee to have a written contract is to be in a union.
Other than these exceptions and a few rare others, employers can fire employees for any reason, even because they just don't like the employee.
What is Wrongful Termination?
If the employer fires an employee because of race or another illegal reason, that is "wrongful termination". Different situations may or may not constitute wrongful termination. For example, an employer may not fire an employee because he or she refuses to commit an illegal act. This situation would constitute wrongful termination as it is illegal for an employer to force an employee to break the law. Another example is when an employer has not followed their company's termination procedures. It may state in the company official policy or an employee handbook that certain steps must be taken in order to fire an employee. If these steps are not followed, then an employee may have a legitimate claim that they were wrongfully fired. In no case can an employer fire an employee who is covered by discrimination laws. Generally these laws include protecting employees from being fired due to their race, religion, nationality and in some states age and sexual orientation. Also, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee in retaliation for that employee filing a charge of discrimination. Either discrimination or retaliation for an employee claiming retaliation would constitute wrongful termination.
If the employer fires the employee in violation of a contract, that is not, in legal terms, "wrongful termination." It is "breach of contract."
If the employer fires the employee in violation of a contract, that is not, in legal terms,"wrongful termination." It is "breach of contract".
Other Related Pages
Wrongful termination is further explored in the following pages on this website:
- Sexual Harassment, Discrimination & Wrongful Termination
- $1.35 Million Verdict, Wrongful Termination
- Proving Discrimination
- For Legal Help see Finding an Attorney and David H. Greenberg, California Employment Law Attorney.
- Please see the related topics: breach of contract, job discrimination, and Whistle Blowing.