Termination and Severance




  • What is wrongful termination?

  • How can employers protect themselves from being accused of wrongful termination?

Termination and Severance Advice for California Employers

 For many Los Angeles area employers, California’s robust labor laws are a chronic source of anxiety and frustration. The problem for Los Angeles businesses that want to operate in this state is that it can be difficult to keep abreast of the annual updates to the existing labor laws. As your employment attorney, we will keep you abreast of these constant changes and advise you regarding the best steps to take to protect your company in the event you need to terminate an employee.

When deciding you need to end an employee relationship, it is important to have experienced legal counsel on your side who can help you navigate California’s labor laws. Most importantly, Los Angeles area companies should avoid any appearance of discrimination in hiring, firing, and promoting.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Under federal and California labor laws, a termination is considered wrongful if the reasoning behind the termination is unlawful. Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone based on:

  • Race/color
  • Religion/creed
  • Sex/gender/sexual orientation/gender expression
  • Nation of origin/ethnicity/genetic information
  • Familial status
  • Age
  • Disability

The state of California takes it a step further. An employee also cannot be fired or denied employment based on political affiliation.

While California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that either an employer or an employee can terminate the employment agreement at any time, an employer may not terminate an employee based on discriminatory reasons.

How are Wrongful Termination Lawsuits Filed?

It is complicated to file an employment discrimination lawsuit. Lawsuits can be filed under either California Law or federal law. Generally speaking, there is a process that must be completed before a claim is allowed to go to court. Either the DFEH or the EEOC must review the claim prior to filing a direct lawsuit against an employer.

Types of Wrongful Termination Lawsuits

There are two common types of wrongful termination lawsuits. First, there are lawsuits involving an employer who retaliates against an employee for filing a complaint. Second, there are lawsuits involving downsizing or cutbacks that unfairly target minority workers.

  • Retaliation lawsuits – An employee may not be fired, demoted, or denied any benefit commonly afforded to other employees merely because they filed a complaint against a supervisor or another employee. Retaliation in this manner is against the law and employees can be awarded handsomely when a jury or arbitrator sympathizes with their position.
  • Unequal outcomes – It is illegal for an employer to offer a job to a white employee at one salary and a Black employee at another salary. Likewise, it is illegal to make cutbacks that unfairly target nonwhite or nonmale employees. If cutbacks unfairly target one demographic, an employee can file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Other, less common wrongful termination claims include:

  • Breach of contract – California operates on implied contracts, so anything you as an employer says verbally, in writing, or expressed in an employee handbook can be considered a legally binding contract for an employee termination lawsuit.
  • Public policy violation – An employer may not ask an employee to do something illegal and then fire them after they refuse.
  • Forced resignation – Los Angeles employers may not create a working environment so awful for an employee that they want to get rid of, that it forces them to resign. This is known as “constructive termination” and it is against the law in California.
  • Maternity leave – An employer may not fire an employee for taking maternity leave. In California, even new fathers are entitled to take leave of work after the birth of a child. So long as certain conditions are met, firing an employee for taking legal parental leave is unlawful.

What is the Best Way for a Los Angeles Employer to Avoid Wrongful Termination Lawsuits?

Transparency in all matters related to hiring, firing, or promoting is the best way to ensure that wrongful termination lawsuits do not happen. Essentially, you want to avoid these types of lawsuits before they are ever filed. By the time you are fighting the claim in court, you are defending yourself and the damage to your reputation has already occurred, regardless of the outcome. These types of lawsuits can be avoided simply by understanding and following the law.

The Wright Law Firm Employment Lawyers has extensive experience working with companies that are just starting out. We help these companies devise robust employee handbooks and procedures that insulate them from liability as opposed to exposing them to liability. We can protect your company from avoidable discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits. In this case, preventing lawsuits before they happen is the best approach to ensuring the solvency and reputation of your California company.

What Happens if My Company is Found Guilty of Wrongful Termination?

If a judge, arbitrator, or jury has found in favor of a former employee being a wrongful termination complaint against your company, your company could be on the hook for:

  • An award of backpay from the date of termination
  • Damages to cover emotional trauma and emotional distress
  • Your employee’s attorney’s fees and costs
  • If the conduct was particularly egregious, punitive damages

Prevention is the Best Medicine

When it comes to wrongful termination lawsuits, employees are able to build cases against their employers because they have been working with an employment litigation attorney to build their case. By the time your company fired the employee, they had employment review records going back three years and a running timeline of every incident that occurred indicating discrimination was the likely cause. That is because their employment lawyer has been coaching them to get this information to prevent you from claiming that any other pretense was the cause of their firing.

As an example, it becomes much more difficult to say that an employee was fired for cause when they have had nothing but sterling performance reviews for the past five years.

The Wright Law Firm Employment Lawyers has been on both sides of the courtroom when it comes to labor disputes and this gives us a unique insight into how to help companies avoid litigation. Companies can prevent the vast majority of lawsuits filed against them simply by putting a transparent system in place to ensure fair practices. Call our firm today and we can begin protecting your company from avoidable lawsuits.



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