man leaving work with things after getting fired

Imagine coming to work like you usually do, only to be randomly fired for no obvious reason. You start recounting previous interactions and work, searching for a reason that you might have gotten fired. After the shock, confusion, and anxiety sets in, you wonder if your termination was even legal. Luckily, California has very strict worker protection laws, including ones for wrongful determination. It should provide you with an outline and an idea of whether or not you were wrongfully terminated.

Understanding Wrongful Termination in California

Wrongful determination is when an employer fires an employee for illegal reasons. While there are many perfectly fine reasons for someone to be fired, these are not one of them. Some illegal reasons to fire somebody in California include discrimination based on age, gender, disability, race, and more. It’s important to note that California is an “at-will” state, meaning employees can leave at any time for any reason, and employers can fire at any time for any reason. However, the doctrine has a few exceptions designed to protect the employee.

How Employees Are Legally Protected in California

Despite California being an at-will state, several key factors protect employees. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is one of the most comprehensive state laws, prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on certain characteristics. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also protects employees from employment discrimination.

How To Spot Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination is a very serious accusation, and you want to be 110% sure before you start a case. Properly identifying wrongful termination can be very challenging in an at-will state. However, there are some key indicators that can help you figure out if your firing was legal. For example, if you were terminated shortly after filing a discrimination or harassment complaint, this is a huge red flag. Other red flags include false reasons given for termination or incorrect evidence that you broke company policy. 

Termination after an employee complains about unsafe working conditions can be seen as retaliation, making it potentially wrongful. Another increasingly common example is an older company with a great performance record being replaced by a younger employee with less experience, possibly indicating ageism.

What To Do If You Suspect Wrongful Termination

Take the following steps if you have strong evidence of wrongful termination:

  1. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of the incidents and communications that went through your head earlier. Also, keep any relevant evidence on hand such as age.
  2. Request an Explanation: If you somehow haven’t already done this, ask your ex-employer for the official reasoning for your termination.  
  3. File a Complaint: If by now you strongly feel like you’ve been wrongfully terminated, file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  4. Consult an Attorney: Seeking legal help is crucial to not only clear your name but also receive just compensation, which could greatly help with not having a job. An attorney specializing in wrongful termination can help you understand your rights, evaluate the strength of your case, and guide you through the legal process.

The Legal Process in California

After filing a complaint with the DFEH or EEOC, they will start conducting an investigation. This will involve gathering evidence(which you already prepared), interviewing witnesses, and reviewing documents. If the agency finds merit in your claim, it will attempt to mediate a settlement between you and your ex-employer. If mediation fails, you can file a lawsuit instead.

Possible outcomes of a wrongful termination case include reinstatement to your former position, compensation for lost wages and benefits, and damages for emotional distress. It’s important to heavily consider if you even want the old job back though, the atmosphere could be very awkward.  In some cases, employers may also be required to pay punitive damages as a deterrent against future wrongful conduct.

Proving wrongful termination can be difficult, as the burden of proof lies with the employee. It’s essential to gather as much evidence as possible and present a coherent case. Additionally, employees may face potential retaliation or blacklisting, making it difficult to find new employment. Maintaining professionalism and resilience during this process is crucial.

By hao

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