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What is the Definition of Wrongful Termination in California and What Are Some Examples?

sadIn California, it is unlawful under Fair Employment and Housing laws to terminate an employee for an unlawful reason, such as race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, or sexual orientation.

Generally, employment is considered “at-will,” meaning, employers have the right to fire or demote an employee for any legal reason without having to provide “just cause” for the action. Employees, similarly, can quit or resign from their positions when they want.  At-will employees include public or governmental employees, employees with a written, verbal, or implied contract, employees belonging to a union, hourly employees, and salaried employees.

It is illegal, however, for an employer to fire an employee for the following reasons:

  • Discrimination
    • Age
    • Race
    • Sexual orientation
    • Gender or sex
    • Disability
    • Political affiliation
    • Religion
    • National origin
  • Retaliation
    • Protesting, in-house reporting or outside whistle blowingagainst
      • Discrimination
      • Harassment
      • Wage and hour violations
      • Unsafe work conditions
      • Rest break and meal time violations
    • Filing a workers’ compensation claim
    • Refusal to enter unsafe workplace
    • Time off for
      • Family leave
      • Maternity leave
      • Medical leave
      • Voting
      • Jury duty

What is the definition of wrongful termination in California?

Here are some examples of wrongful termination:

  • You are injured in an accident and your employer fires you because you need some time off to heal
  • You are hurt on the job and have a worker’s compensation claim, and your employer fires you because they don’t want the liability
  • Your child, parent, or other relative gets sick and you ask for time off, and your employer fires or demotes you
  • You get pregnant or need maternity/paternity time and your employer fires you
  • You are a whistleblower and bring violations of law to your employers’ attention and are fired
  • You are harassed or discriminated at work, and after expressing your concerns, you are fired
  • You have a bad boss who is harassing you and after complaining to HR about your boss, your boss goes out of his/her way to find reasons to fire you

In addition to the above,  California law prohibits the firing of an employee for reasons that are fundamental to public policy, called a “Tameny” claim. Only employees (not independent contractors) can bring Tameny claims, and no Tameny claims may be brought against supervisors. Tameny claims cannot be brought against public entities.

Common unlawful reasons triggering a Tameny claim include termination of an employee based on prohibited characteristics, such as race, nationality, gender, age, etc., violation of family or medical leave laws, the employee’s attempt to maintain a safe working place, termination for refusal to sign a non-compete clause,  termination for refusing to release the employer from liability for intentional acts, whistleblowing, testifying at hearings, jury service,  discussing wages with co-workers, political activity, reporting fraudulent businesses practices, misrepresentations in employment, violations of labor code laws,  or other lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.

Reasons that do not trigger a Tameny claim include termination for reporting a coworker’s violation of internal policies and practices, termination for reporting a coworker’s prior bad acts (i.e., workplace “tattling”), termination for reporting misappropriation of the employers’ funds, termination for refusing to agree to arbitration, termination for refusing a drug test, termination for asserting fraud claims against the employer, termination for refusing to dismiss a personal injury lawsuit, termination for exercising free speech rights, use of medical marijuana, or others.

Getting Legal Help

AXIS Legal Counsel is an employment law firm representing clients  in numerous kinds of lawsuits and disputes involving some of the nation’s largest employers. Whether it is sexual harassment, other kinds of harassment, discrimination, medical/disability discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, wage/hour, workplace bullying, or other claims, AXIS Legal Counsel is experienced in the field of employment and labor law and focused on providing high-quality legal service.  AXIS’s managing attorney, Rabeh M. A. Soofi, is recognized as one of the “Top Women Lawyers in Southern California” by SuperLawyers Rising Stars, and is a Los Angeles Employment Attorney with experience representing numerous employees with a wide variety of employment claims.

For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel for any employment matter, contact [email protected] or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation, or visit our Employee’ Rights Practice Area, or Individual Rights Portal. AXIS is a Los Angeles, California employment law firm serving employees all over Los Angeles and California.

Wrongfully terminating an employee is illegal.

 If you or a loved one has been the victim of
wrongful termination, get help now.


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