Millions of Americans have lost their jobs over the past two years as companies have laid off, fired, or otherwise terminated workers. The employer’s stated reason for the action may sound legitimate at the time, but there may also be other forces at work below the surface.
Without a doubt, a tumultuous economy has left many businesses in California and elsewhere with fewer revenue sources or the wrong kind of competition, forcing them to take drastic measures to satisfy their bottom line.
But if a worker suspects another reason that their boss let them go, however, there may be grounds for a lawsuit if there is proof that the employer broke the law. Employment law claims can be tricky, however, so it makes sense to discover your options first before taking action.
When is job termination illegal?
Like most other states, California follows at-will employment laws where, absent a contract or collective bargaining contract, the employer may fire a worker, or the worker may quit, for any or no reason and with no notice. However, there are a number of ways that the employer may be subject to a wrongful discharge claim, with or without a contract, if the termination involved:
- Dismissal for race, color, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability or pregnancy discrimination
- Breach of employment contract
- Whistleblower retaliation or refusal to perform illegal acts during employment
- Violation of disciplinary or termination procedure
- Violation of protected time off
What are the possible outcomes of a wrongful termination lawsuit?
If an employee believes that their employer fired them for any of the above reasons, there is a filing procedure that must follow either federal or state guidelines, depending on the type of charge. For example, if it is a discrimination or harassment claim, it can be a federal complaint handled through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or at the state level in California through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
In a successful claim, the employer may be responsible for paying the employee’s back pay, or offer them a reinstatement or promotion, compensatory damages, or legal fees. It is important to remember that the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful termination claim in California is two years, but if it is through the EEOC, it is 180 days.