Navigating the Complexity of a Wrongful Termination in California

Losing your job is stressful enough, but when you think you were wrongfully terminated it can bring with it a host of other problems. Leaving on bad terms makes it difficult to find work in the future, you may be fighting retaliation and being “blacklisted” in your field, and meanwhile, your bills are piling up.

If you can prove that you were wrongfully terminated, however, you may be able to solve quite a few of your problems. The only way to do this, though, is to work with a law office that is highly skilled and knowledgeable in understanding wrongful termination law, like those of us at Hershey Law.

Partnering with employment lawyers gives you the opportunity to get the compensation and justice that you deserve.  But how do you know if your case meets the criteria of “wrongful termination” and if you need an attorney?

With a basic understanding of what wrongful termination encompasses and the laws behind it, you can answer those questions for yourself and then make a decision to contact an employment lawyer.

California Laws on Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination itself is a federal offense. Under federal law, employers can not legally fire employees due to gender, race, nation of origin, religion, disability, or age (40 or older). But states can increase these federal laws and add additional layers of protection.

California law states that a wrongful termination has occurred when an employer violates any of these federal statutes, any additional state statutes, the employment contract, public policy, or other applicable laws. The state laws determine the difference between a legal termination and a violation of any of these laws.

If you work in California, you are most likely considered an “at-will” employee. That means you can leave your job as you choose and your employer can also fire you as they choose, within the law and the contract agreed upon at the time of employment.

As an “at-will” employee, your employer doesn’t need to have a good reason to terminate your job. They can do so for any reason, without notice. That doesn’t mean it’s a smart decision, but it’s not illegal.

However, there are some circumstances in which this action crosses the line from unkind to illegal and unlawful, such as termination due to:

  • Protected factors such as race, gender, disability, etc. (as set forth in federal guidelines)
  • Use of legally entitled requests for time off
  • Political opinions and affiliations
  • Reporting company or employer violations
  • Any reason that is in conflict with the contract signed at the time of employment
  • Reasons that violate public policy.

Contractual agreements can be voided, however, if it is determined that the employee willfully, habitually, or neglectfully breaches their duties or is unable to perform said job description.

Important Guidelines When You’re Considering Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim

If you do decide that your situation falls into one of the categories that definite “wrongful termination,” then you need to know some important facts about filing your lawsuit.

Wrongful terminations, as well as most other claims, must abide by a strict statute of limitations. However, this type of case has multiple variables in it that your attorney will address that impact the time limit, including the type of claim you are filing and the jurisdiction and agency in which you file.

For most of California’s wrongful termination claims, the agency involved is the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This department is involved when the claim is a violation of the California Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA), and the statute of limitations for filing your claim is one year from the date of your termination. They will investigate and determine if you can move forward by giving you a Right to Sue notice.

It is possible to skip the DFEH investigation process and go right to a lawsuit, but only after you have obtained a Right to Sue notice. Your attorney can help you with and advise you of the pros and cons of this action.

Other cases require filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal branch of employment protection. This agency is the go-to for cases that will be filed under federal law, usually for discrimination.

The time limit to file with the EEOC is 180 days after termination, but California extends this limit to 300 days. Again, the EEOC will investigate the claim and determine if a Right to Sue notice is applicable.

Certain other violations have different time limits, such as whistleblowing and breach of contract. Be sure to contact Hershey Law as soon as possible to find out if your situation falls within the statute of limitations before it’s too late.

What About Collecting a Severance Package?

Many times, wrongful termination comes hand-in-hand with the offer of a decent severance package. But that temptation comes at a price.

Employers know when their actions were underhanded at best and illegal at worst, and they may attempt to buy your compliance through a carefully comprised severance package. Desperate employees may think they don’t have any other option, since they likely live paycheck to paycheck. This severance package could get them through the next few weeks until they find another job.

The benefits are usually attached to the requirement to sign a contract stating that you will not look for any other compensation after accepting the severance package. Before you sign any agreement, talk to an employment lawyer to ensure you are, in fact, getting the best deal.

Possible Benefits of Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim

It is possible to fight your termination by yourself, but without a full understanding of the complexity of the employment laws, you may end up giving up too soon or settling for less than you deserve.

When you retain an attorney, they will deal with the red tape for you. Our attorneys at Hershey Law are not intimidated by mega-corporations, scare tactics, and insurance company scams. We deal with the other parties for you to reduce your stress and ensure you are not taken advantage of, looking out for your rights and best interests at all times.

There is no sure way of knowing how much your wrongful termination case will be worth. Every case is different and the losses you have incurred will determine your possible awards. Lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, court costs, and more will be taken into consideration before your damages are determined.

The average settlement for these types of cases usually ranges somewhere between $5,000 to $50,000, so don’t settle for the low end when an attorney may be able to get you much more. Serious violations could be worth even more, but without hiring an employment lawyer, you may not realize the importance of your situation.

With a knowledgeable attorney on your side, there are many potential types of compensation that you could receive:

  • Lost wages and any future earnings you should have been able to receive
  • Compensation for benefits you may have missed, such as insurance, vacation time, and bonuses
  • Financial compensation for overtime and promotions you lost out on
  • Costs incurred by you as you attempted to find another job
  • Possible reinstatement of your terminated position
  • Medical expenses due to your job loss (included mental health care)
  • Any other punitive damages as determined as necessary to punish the employer for their act in violating federal labor laws.

In some instances, the court may demand that your employer reinstates your position for you, in addition to the benefits you would have been entitled to, like a raise or promotion. If that occurs, the choice to return back to the job is yours, but you would legally be protected from retaliation if you choose this route.

If the employer and employee are amenable to a settlement that offers something comparable rather than having the employer return to that position, your attorney can negotiate those details for you as well.

Should You Settle?

Unless your specific circumstances demand a trial, you may be given the opportunity to accept a settlement during your lawsuit. This is the way the majority of wrongful termination suits conclude, and there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you feel that justice was served.

Employers would often rather settle out of court than be slapped with the label and stigma that comes with being accused of wrongful termination, especially when the accusation has to do with discrimination or other highly protected rights. Settlements are confidential and add a fast closure to the case.

By working with an attorney that you trust, you can weigh out the pros and cons of accepting a settlement versus going on to a trial.

Talk to Our Wrongful Termination Lawyers First

Before you sign anything, move ahead by yourself, or just give up the fight, make an appointment for your free consultation with Hershey Law’s wrongful termination attorneys.

We have the expertise to apply to your unique situation to help you decide your next steps. Let us help you get the justice you deserve for your wrongful job loss and the stress you have been dealing with since.