Losing your job suddenly is never easy to accept. When you learn you’re being dismissed, it’s normal to feel confused and frustrated—especially if the circumstances seem unfair. In these situations, employees often wonder if they have a claim for wrongful termination under California or federal law.  

This blog post will shed some light on what wrongful termination looks like. We’ll discuss the legal definition of wrongful termination in California, examples of unlawful firing, and your options for getting help. 

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination happens when someone is fired for reasons prohibited under state or federal law. Most employees understand that they’re entitled to certain rights and protections under employment laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Put simply, wrongful termination is the legal term for a firing that violates existing state or federal law. Termination is “wrongful” because it is based on illegal reasons, such as:

  • Racial discrimination,
  • Whistleblower retaliation, or
  • Breach of an employment contract.

Be aware: being dismissed for unfair reasons isn’t the same as being dismissed for illegal reasons. Some unfair dismissal examples that don’t meet the legal definition of wrongful termination include: 

  • Being fired after an interpersonal dispute with your supervisor;
  • Losing your job after a colleague botches a project and blames it on you;
  • Being replaced due to personal preferences of a new executive; and
  • Downsizing for economic reasons despite your positive performance. 

You can be fired for reasons that feel trivial, petty, or unfair but don’t violate any laws. This is because most jobs in California are considered “at will.” When you’re employed at will, your boss can fire you—and you can quit—anytime and for almost any reason without legal repercussions. As long as the motives behind your dismissal aren’t illegal, there’s not much you can do to fight them. 

7 Wrongful Dismissal Examples for California Employees

Even though most employees in California are at will, there are still plenty of circumstances when a firing can be illegal. Here are some reasons for dismissal that could be grounds for a wrongful termination claim in California. 

1.  You’re fired because of your race, gender, religion, pregnancy, or disability.

California’s FEHA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and several other federal laws prohibit discrimination based on certain identity traits. Under this legislation, employers are prohibited from making employment decisions based on various protected characteristics, including age, sexual orientation, military status, and national origin.

2. You reported sexual or other harassment at work. 

California and federal employment laws protect employees who report illegal harassment from employer backlash. It’s illegal for your boss to punish you for speaking out about wrongdoing by cutting your pay, demoting you, or firing you. Retaliation of this type is grounds for a wrongful termination claim. 

3. You applied for workers’ compensation. 

If you’re injured on the job in California, you have the right to request financial support through workers’ compensation. Unfortunately, employers sometimes fire employees who do so to cover up potential safety violations and avoid paying insurance premiums. However, California law makes it illegal for employers to punish employees for exercising their legal rights, such as the right to seek workers’ compensation. Retaliation of this kind is known as a violation of public policy, and it’s another common ground for wrongful termination claims. 

4. You requested family or medical leave.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act and California Family Rights Act grant employees the right to unpaid leave for certain life events. Under these laws, eligible California employees can take time away from work to care for a newborn child or sick loved one without risking their job security. If you were fired for requesting or taking entitled leave time, you could have a wrongful termination case.

5. You filed a wage claim.

It’s illegal to retaliate against employees who file wage claims with the state Labor Commissioner to recover withheld or unpaid wages. Firing employees who refuse to work without pay is another violation of public policy.

6. You blew the whistle or participated in a workplace investigation.

California and federal law protect employees who report unethical or illegal behavior in the workplace, including safety violations, harassment, and fraud. Dismissing someone for disclosing information about workplace wrongdoing could also be a form of unlawful termination. It’s also illegal to punish witnesses or participants involved in workplace investigations. You could have grounds for wrongful dismissal if you were terminated after testifying in an internal investigation.

7. Your employer broke your contract. 

Some employment or collective bargaining agreements require employers to follow a specific procedure when terminating someone. For example, an employer might have to give a warning or have “good cause” before dismissing you. If your employer violates these rules, you could have a claim for wrongful termination via breach of contract.

What Are My Legal Options After Wrongful Termination? 

Employees who are fired illegally have the right to hold their employer responsible for violating state or federal law. With the help of an experienced unlawful termination lawyer, you can file a lawsuit against your employer for wrongful termination in California. Examples of recovery available for employees with successful wrongful termination claims can include:

  • Back pay,
  • Lost future income,
  • Job reinstatement,
  • Attorney’s fees, and
  • Compensation for emotional distress caused by your dismissal.

However, depending on the reason for your unlawful termination, you may need to meet specific administrative requirements before you can sue. For example, employees who’ve been fired for discriminatory reasons generally have to file an administrative complaint with a state or federal agency before filing suit. 

For this reason, it’s best to contact a wrongful termination attorney in Los Angeles immediately if you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated. An attorney focusing on California employment law can assess your situation and help you understand which regulations apply to your case. They can help ensure you meet all the legal and administrative requirements for a wrongful termination claim and advocate for you to receive the maximum compensation possible. 

Speak to a Qualified Employment Advocate Today

Employees who suddenly lose their jobs face many difficult questions and decisions. However, it’s essential not to wait too long to get the help you need. The statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims can be as short as two years. At Tomorrow Law™, we’ve seen too many California employees hesitate and miss this deadline—and with it, their chance to recover compensation.

For the past decade, our employment attorneys have worked tirelessly to help California employees understand and exercise their rights in the face of abusive and corrupt organizations. Our skilled litigators help employees recover millions of dollars in compensation every year, and we’re prepared to help you. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

Author Photo

David Bibiyan is a distinguished attorney at Tomorrow Law, renowned for his expertise in employment law. With a strong focus on representing employees in various workplace disputes, he has become a trusted advocate for those facing discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and wage and hour issues. Bibiyan’s approach is characterized by a deep understanding of both state and federal employment laws, ensuring that his clients receive knowledgeable and effective representation. His commitment to justice is evident in his dedication to each case, where he meticulously works to secure the best possible outcomes for his clients. Bibiyan’s reputation is built on a foundation of successful case resolutions, marked by his skillful negotiation and, when necessary, aggressive litigation strategies. His work at Tomorrow Law reflects a genuine passion for defending workers’ rights and promoting fair employment practices.

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