Compared to many other states, the wrongful termination laws in California are much less strict. This means that employers in California have more freedom to fire their employees without legal consequence.
Employment in the state of California is what is known as "at-will", meaning that an employee is free to quit at any time for almost any reason and an employer is free to fire an employee any time for almost any reason. These reasons even include such things as nepotism, favoritism, and other such justifications that would generally be considered unfair. With that said, there are still some instances in California that do qualify as wrongful termination.
Defining wrongful termination in California
In spite of the fact that California is lenient when it comes to the freedom for employers to fire employees, there are a couple notable limitations to that freedom.
The first limitation is what's known as a "good cause" or a "just cause" contract. In California, employees may sign a contract with their employer in which the employer guarantees to only fire the employee if they have good cause for doing so. Often times, unions may pursue these contracts on behalf of the employees, so you may be covered by a "good cause" contract without even realizing it. If you are covered under a "good cause" contract, your employer must be able to prove that your termination was fair and justified or else it will be considered a wrongful termination.
Another important limitation on employer's freedom to fire employees in California is that employees may not be terminated for any reason that is illegal. For instance, it is illegal for employers in California to discriminate based on age, sex, race, color, religion, pregnancy, medical condition, and more. If an employer in California terminates an employee for any of these reasons, the termination is wrongful.
Other reasons that are illegal for an employer to use as justification for firing someone include an employee refusing to perform an illegal action, an employee performing a statutory obligation such as being absent from work because of jury duty, an employee engaging in whistleblowing, or an employee exercising a statutory right or privilege such as refusing to take a polygraph or refusing to let an employer search their personal belongings.
What to do if you are wrongfully terminated in California
If you have been fired from your job in California for reasons that you feel are unjust, it may be disparaging to learn how lenient California's wrongful termination laws are. With that said, there are still important instances where terminations in California are considered wrongful, and in many instances, employees are able to make a solid case that their termination was illegal.
If you feel that you have been wrongly terminated and would like to learn more about the options you have available, we invite you to contact us today for an evaluation of your case.