California is an At-Will Employment State
Many people who have been fired or laid off believe that their termination was illegal. They often believe that an employer is required to have a good reason to terminate the employment arrangement. However, this is incorrect. California, like many other states, is an “at-will” state, which means that employers can fire employees for any reason or for no reason at all—unless the reason is unlawful.
Cases of Wrongful Termination
Even in at-will states, employees do have some legal rights. An employer can’t terminate an employee if the termination is based on illegal discrimination or retaliation, for example. Also, an employer can’t fire an employee if there is an employment contract in place that provides that the employee can’t be fired unless there is just cause. Union members may have additional job protections in place. Also, in many cases government employees have additional rights and protections that aren’t available to employees in the private sector. It is also illegal to fire someone who refuses do something contrary to public policy.
Some examples of wrongful termination include:
- Firing a female employee upon learning she is pregnant;
- Laying off all of the older workers before the younger workers;
- Firing an employee who alerted a public official or agency to the employer’s illegal actions;
- Firing an employee who failed to prepare incorrect tax returns for the employer; and
- Firing an employee without cause who is protected by an employment contract.
Although all of these reasons for terminating someone’s job are illegal, often the employers will claim that the termination was because of a different reason. These reasons are usually after-the-fact justifications.
Independent Contractors and Wrongful Termination
If you are an independent contractor, job protections (such as the prohibition against discrimination) do not apply to you. Therefore, an employer can discontinue the use of your services for any reason or for no reason at all. However, often workers are incorrectly classified as independent contractors by employers, when they are actually employees. This is done so that the employers can take advantage of the legal and financial benefits of hiring independent contractors instead of employees. If you were told you are an independent contractor when you believe you’re actually an employee, contact an employment law attorney, who can help you understand the legal distinction.
Important Information About Wrongful Termination
Often, when employees have been wrongfully terminated, they may also have other claims against their employers of which they aren’t aware. The employer may not have complied with federal law about overtime, minimum wage, and other legal requirements. An employee may have a right to sue for unpaid overtime or wages for the period of time he or she was employed.
If you have been fired, you may be asked to sign a severance agreement. Severance agreements usually require employees to sign away their potential claims against the employer for a severance payment or extended benefits. Although you may have been shocked by the termination, and you may be tempted to sign the agreement immediately so you can pay your bills, if you do so you are often waiving your legal rights in exchange for a small amount of salary. It’s important that you contact a California employment attorney to find out what legal claims you could possibly have before signing any severance agreement.
Contact an Employment Rights Attorney if You Were Wrongfully Terminated
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that employers should not be allowed to wrongfully terminate their employees and get away with it. If you’re in the San-Francisco – Oakland area, including Berkeley, Fairfield, Hayward, Tracy and the surrounding areas, and you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, call Micha Star Liberty of Liberty Law at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She will give you more information on wrongful termination and how to protect your legal rights.