WE FIGHT INJUSTICE IN THE WORKPLACE
Forced to Resign
Fired for Taking Maternity Leave
Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Attorney
Losing a job is never a pleasant experience. If that loss was the result of an unfair or illegal act on the part of your former employer, you understandably want to take action. Under federal and California laws, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. If successful, such a claim can force your ex-employer to compensate you for your lost income and other monetary damages.
California wrongful termination attorney Jamie Wright, Esq., can evaluate your case and advise you on the best course of action. Her practice covers a wide range of employment-related subjects, including breach of contract, illegal discrimination, and retaliation claims. If you are uncertain as to your rights under the law, she can provide experienced professional guidance.
While every wrongful termination case is unique, there are some basic legal principles that you should be aware of before consulting with an attorney. Here is just a brief overview of what you need to know:
What is Wrongful Termination?
In the broadest sense, “wrongful termination” means an employer has terminated or laid off an employee for a reason that violates federal, state, or local law. The most common types of wrongful termination claims include breach of an employment contract, discrimination, violation of public policy, and retaliation.
Breach of Contract
California is an “at-will” state when it comes to employment. Basically, your employer can fire you at any time, with or without cause. Similarly, you are free to quit your job for any reason. If there is a contract between you and your employer, that can create an exception to the general at-will rule.
Note that a “contract” in this context does not necessarily mean a formally drafted agreement signed by you and your employer. California has long recognized the existence of implied contracts–that is, agreements where the “existence and terms of which are manifested by conduct.” So, for example, if you and your employer had an understanding that you could not be fired without cause, and the employer later violated this understanding, that may be enough to support a wrongful termination claim.
In some cases, an employer may also create a contractual relationship by making written statements in an “employee handbook” or similar document outlining the rights and responsibilities of the employees. Of course, whether or not a judge will consider a handbook to be a contract will depend on the precise language used. Remember, at-will employment is the default in California, so any language used in a handbook or similar document must clearly manifest the employer’s intent to only discharge an employee for cause.
Even under a purely at-will employment arrangement, an employer cannot fire you based on certain legally protected characteristics. Various federal statutes prohibit discrimination on the basis of age (if you are over 40), disability, national origin, pregnancy, race, color, religion, sex, or genetic information. California law goes even further, adding sexual orientation, gender identity, AIDS/HIV status, political beliefs and activities, and status as a victim of domestic violence to the list of protected characteristics.
Violation of Public Policy
Your employer cannot fire you for refusing to commit an illegal act. This is known as a termination in “violation of public policy.” A simple example of this is an employer terminating an employee for refusing to help management commit fraud. The public policy exception may also cover situations in which an employer asks an employee to refrain from exercising a legal right, such as voting in an election.
Let’s say your employer does ask you to do something illegal. Instead of complying, you report the illegal activity to the proper authorities. If your employer then fires you, that would be a case of illegal retaliation. An employer cannot terminate an employee from exercising any legal right related to their employment. This includes both internal and external actions. For example, if you are the victim of sexual harassment and report a co-worker to management, you cannot be fired for filing that complaint.
I Was Forced to Resign: Do I Still Have a Claim for Wrongful Termination?
Many people mistakenly assume they cannot sue a former employer for wrongful termination because they quit before they could be fired for an illegal reason. California, however, does allow for what are known as “wrongful constructive termination.” The word “constructive” refers to a situation where an employee was effectively forced to resign due to intolerable working conditions.
Consider a scenario in which an employee files a complaint regarding race discrimination in the workplace. The employer does not immediately fire the employee in retaliation, which would be illegal, but instead reassigns him to less desirable work and starts giving him bad performance reviews. Reading the writing on the wall, the employee decides to quit. Under these circumstances, the employee would have a strong case for wrongful constructive termination.
My Employer Disagrees with My Political Beliefs? Can They Fire Me Because of That?
California law forbids employers from firing or disciplining employees based on their political beliefs and activities. Among other things, this means your employer cannot fire you if you run for office, make public statements about anyone running for office, or joining a particular political party. Your employer may not like your political beliefs, but they cannot base job decisions on such disagreements.
What are My Rights if I am Pregnant? Can I be Fired for Taking Maternity Leave?
New mothers often struggle with the decision to take time off from work during their pregnancy or to care for a newborn child. Some employers may even pressure pregnant workers not to take leave–or imply the mother’s job may be in jeopardy if they do not return quickly enough. Such actions are not just unethical–they are illegal in California
In 2018, the California New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) took effect. The NPLA ensures that both mothers and fathers can take job-protected leave if they qualify. The Act applies to all public employers and any private business with at least 20 employees. You can take up to 12 weeks of leave if you have worked for your current employer for at least 12 months. During this 12-week period, your employer cannot fire you for refusing to return to work. If they do, you can file a wrongful termination claim under the NPLA.
When Should I Consider Finding a California Wrongful Termination Attorney?
If you have any suspicions about the reasons you lost your job, you should speak with a qualified California wrongful termination attorney as soon as possible. If possible, you should contact a lawyer even before you are formally terminated or forced to resign. The reason for this is that many California employers–anticipating potential wrongful termination claims–will ask an employee to sign a waiver of legal rights, often in exchange for a severance payment. By consulting with a lawyer beforehand, you may be able to negotiate a more favorable severance package–or, more important, preserve your legal right to take action against the employer.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Termination Claim?
Another reason to engage a California wrongful termination attorney sooner rather than later is that there are time limits to bring a claim. For any type of lawsuit or complaint there is a “statute of limitations” that must be strictly followed. In California, the statute of limitations is just two years for wrongful termination claims alleging breach of an implied oral contract or violation of public policy. And for claims involving illegal discrimination, you typically need to file an administrative complaint first with California or federal officials, and this must be done within 180 days of the discriminatory act.
What Compensation Can I Receive from a Wrongful Termination Claim?
If you end up filing a civil lawsuit against your former employer for wrongful termination and win, the court can award you a variety of damages, depending on the nature of your case. Some of the more common damages we see in wrongful termination cases include:
- An award of back pay to compensate the wrongfully terminated employee for their lost wages and benefits.
- A separate award to cover the trauma, emotional distress, and pain and suffering caused by the employer’s wrongful termination.
- In some types of wrongful termination cases, the court may also award a successful employee their attorney’s fees and court costs.
- In exceptional cases, the court can order the employer to pay punitive damages to the employee. Such damages are not based on the injuries actually suffered by the employee; rather they reflect the court’s disapproval of the employer’s “oppression, fraud, or malice” in firing the employee.
Contact California Wrongful Termination Attorney Jamie Wright, Esq., if You Need Advice or Representation
There are many more facets to California wrongful termination law beyond what is discussed above. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact attorney Jamie Wright, Esq., today to schedule a consultation. Even if you are unsure that you have been the victim of wrongful termination, there is no risk to you in speaking with a qualified attorney about your situation.