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What Exactly Is Wrongful Termination?

As a California employee, your job likely represents one of the most important things in your life. Whether you love it or hate it, your job is where you go and what you do for a significant amount of time each week so you can earn the money you need to pay your bills and hopefully have a little leftover for fun things. You need your job and the last thing you need is to get fired from it.

What you need to realize, however, and what FindLaw explains, is that most jobs are “at will.” What this means is that unless you and your employer have a written employment contract, (s)he can fire you whenever (s)he wishes for virtually any reason or for no reason at all. You can likewise quit whenever you wish for virtually any reason or for no reason at all. However, (s)he cannot fire you for an illegal reason. Doing so represents a wrongful termination.

Wrongful termination examples

Both federal and state law contain reasons why your employer cannot fire you, including the following:

  • Termination because of your race, gender, ethnic background, religion, or disability
  • Termination because of your sexual orientation
  • Termination because you filed a legal complaint against your employer
  • Termination because you became a whistleblower and told the proper authorities about wrongdoing your employer committed
  • Termination because you took a medical leave
  • Termination because you serve in the military

Common law exceptions

In addition to the above statutory reasons why your employer cannot terminate your at-will employment, three additional common law reasons, called exceptions, exist. The public policy exception prevents your employer from firing you if such termination violates a specific, well-established California public policy. For instance, your employer cannot fire you if you file a workers’ compensation claim after you suffer an on-the-job injury.

Under the implied contract exception, your employer cannot fire you if you can prove that (s)he made oral representations to you concerning your job security or that (s)he violated the company’s policy and procedure manuals when (s)he fired you. Finally, California recognizes the covenant of good faith exception. This exception means that your employer is held to a “just cause” standard when making termination and other employment decisions. For instance, (s)he cannot fire you based on malice.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.