The workplace can be filled with difficult dilemmas. When an employee becomes aware of illegal or inappropriate behavior by coworkers or managers, there can be strong pressure to just stay silent and hope the problem goes away. Many employees consider this route only because of the risk of hurting career prospects or even losing a job.
One Hollywood man decided to run the risk and told his managers about another employee who apparently did cocaine in company restrooms while working. After his employer fired him, a California jury agreed that this was a case of wrongful termination. The jury awarded a $450,000 verdict and laid the groundwork for an even larger award by saying that the case probably merited punitive damages as well. The employer quickly settled the case to avoid those damages.
California, like the rest of the United States, follows an "at-will" rule. This means that employers can generally fire employees at any time and for any reason. However, laws have also made some big exceptions to that rule. For example, employers cannot fire someone because of the employee's race, gender, religion, or several other protected characteristics. An illegal termination gives the employee a "wrongful termination" claim.
Another big protection is that employers cannot retaliate against employees for reporting or complaining about illegal activity. This means that an employee cannot be terminated for reporting discrimination, sexual harassment, or some kinds of fraud.
Wrongful termination and retaliatory discharge claims involve a complicated and nuanced set of laws - anyone who thinks he or she was the subject of an illegal or retaliatory termination should contact a Los Angeles employment lawyer to learn more about these protections.
Source: 4 NBC Southern California, "Cocaine Tattler Wins Wrongful Termination Case," Sharon Bernstein, Oct. 24, 2012