Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Was I Wrongfully Terminated At Work? Should I Sue? - Pride Legal

California labor law protects employees from discrimination or otherwise unfair treatment in the workplace. However, understanding what “wrongful termination” actually means can be very challenging and context-specific. To figure out whether you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you’ll first need to learn the basics of California labor law.

What is an at-will employee?

“At-will” refers to a classification of employees who are able to leave, quit, or be terminated from their job whenever they or their employer pleases. Generally, employers may terminate or lay off employees for little to no reason at all. Most employees in California are at-will employees, as they do not have contractual time limits on how long they’re supposed to stay in their position, like many CEOs or other executives of companies. These “defined-term” employees tend to have an easier time establishing wrongful termination on the basis of clear breaches of contract, but at-will employees face more difficulties because they generally cannot rely on such clear violations.

The most common presumption employees have is that, if they work hard and do everything their boss asks, there’s no way they can be fired. Sadly, this is not true, as at-will employees are essentially at the mercy of their employers. The law states that employees who are classified as at-will may be fired simply for annoying their boss, or if the boss just doesn’t want you there. As long as their motives are not discriminatory or illegal, the employer has every right to do this. However, even though most California employees are classified as “at-will” employees, there’s still a chance that a terminated employee was fired illegally.

How could I know if I was wrongfully terminated?

California labor law clearly defines what is legal and what is illegal for an employer to do relating to an employee’s termination (as well as other forms of retaliation and discrimination against an employee). Employers do not have unlimited power to do whatever they please to their employees. Employers and managers must stick to what they have stated and written down in the employment contracts, and this includes treating all employees with respect and fairness. Labor law bars employers from firing an employee for, among other things, the following:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Unfair work hours
  • Unsafe work environment
  • Retaliation

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects all employees from discrimination on the basis of certain protected classes, including their sex, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, and race. This bars an employer from taking action against an African-American employee just because they don’t like them. Likewise, employers are not allowed to, on the basis of these protected characteristics, pay people less, change an employee’s work hours to terrible times or to no times at all, or otherwise create a hostile work environment to try to get the employee to quit. Employers must create a work environment where people can do their work in peace, and if an employer is infringing on those rights, an affected employee may choose to sue.

How much could I make from a wrongful termination claim?

To get started with a wrongful termination suit, you’ll first need to get in contact with an attorney. Proving if an employee has been wrongfully terminated in court can be difficult even with proper representation, especially where there’s no physical evidence. An attorney can help you gather all the facts about the employer, the business, your work hours, and every other piece of evidence that may bolster your case. The amount of compensation you could gain from a wrongful termination lawsuit is tough to estimate. It changes depending on the form of harassment or discrimination that you faced at work, as well as the possible basis of your wrongful termination. An employee could be eligible to win:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost benefits
  • Reinstatement
  • Pain and suffering
  • Attorneys’ fees
  • Punitive damages

More serious crimes like sexual harassment or discrimination would result in larger damages recovered by the employee.


Q: What is the statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims?

A: The statute of limitations is 180 days to be filed after being fired to report to the EEOC. If the claim is being filed under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the lawsuit must be filed within 1 year of termination.

Q: What should be my first steps if I believe I’ve been wrongfully terminated?

A: Contact an employment law attorney. Employment law is complicated, and it’s important to have someone well versed in the subject to help you navigate the many complex issues that can arise so that you can best protect your interests. Pride Legal has a large network of experienced employment law attorneys who are ready to help you determine whether you have a case, how best to pursue it, and more.

Q: What evidence do I need to gather?

A: If there is any physical or written evidence, bring that to your attorney. Your attorney will want to review how long you’ve worked there, if you signed a contract, what that contract states, how the employer has been treating you vs. the other employees, work hours, any emails, and any statements. All these pieces would be brought together to be looked at and assessed to be able to find if there is a viable case or not.

Q: What happens if I’m reinstated?

A: “Reinstatement” is a common remedy to wrongful termination, requiring the employer to the same or similar position to the one you had. Your placement must be analogous in terms of compensation, benefits, responsibilities, location, etc. This means that your employer cannot simply offer you a lower-level position 100 miles away. However, this protection doesn’t always fit with reality. Wrongful termination is very often a symptom of a hostile work environment, which many people would prefer to avoid. It’s important to consider at the outset of your case whether you want to be reinstated and to advocate accordingly.

Q: Is the LGBTQ+ community protected against wrongful termination in California?

A: Yes. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibit discrimination (including wrongful termination) on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. On the federal level, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly reference sexual orientation or gender identity, but the Supreme Court of the United States recently read these terms into the definition of “sex,” which is a protected class under that act.

Q: Are new parents protected against wrongful termination in California?

A: To an extent. Although parents are not a “protected class” for the purposes of civil rights laws in the same sense as, say, race and sex, new parents enjoy certain protections under both federal and California law. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act afford certain protections to eligible employees that could be very relevant in the context of wrongful termination. We review paternity leave laws here.

Contact Pride Legal

If you or a loved one has been wrongfully terminated at work, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.

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