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Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination is a commonly misunderstood concept because most employees tend to feel that their termination is wrongful and undeserved. The fact is that most terminations are lawful under California employment laws because California is an “at will” employment state. That means that an employee can be terminated for any lawful reason, and the employee can terminate their own job for any reason, and neither party can successfully sue the other. That’s why it’s important to consult an experienced Oakland wrongful termination lawyer like those at Spencer Young Law, if you feel like your rights have been violated.

However, employers may not terminate an employee for an unlawful reason, or for any reason that violates an important public policy. For example, if an employer terminates an employee because of the employee’s race, gender, disability, medical condition, religion, national origin, or other protected characteristic or trait, the termination would likely be wrongful under the Fair Employment and Housing Act or Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act.

If an employer terminates an employee because the employee engaged in protected activity (filing a complaint for unsafe working conditions with the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, for example), the termination would likely be wrongful under California Labor Code Section 1102.5 (California’s whistleblower protection statute).

If an employer terminates an employee because the employee refused to follow a directive which the employee reasonably believes to be unlawful (refusing to report that a manager did not say racially insensitive statements at a board meeting, for example), the termination would likely be unlawful under the Fair Employment and Housing Act or Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act.

If an employer terminates an employee because the employee participated in an investigation about harassment (making a statement to human resources that a supervisor sexually harassed another employee, for example), this termination will also violate California employment law.

Demotions can also be wrongful. The employer does need to completely sever the employment arrangement for a case to have merit. In order to prove wrongful termination or wrongful demotion, an employee needs to establish the following:

  1. Employee was employed by employer,
  2. Employee was terminated or demoted by employer,
  3. That a violation of public policy was substantial motivating factor for the termination or demotion, and
  4. The termination or demotion caused harm to the employee.
Constructive Discharge

Sometimes an employee feels absolutely compelled to resign from a job because of unsafe working conditions. In these scenarios, an employee needs to prove that the employee had to quit because the employer required them to endure intolerable conditions that violate public policy. Constructive discharge is a generally hard claim to prove and win because the employee must show that the conditions are actually “intolerable”. Often, simple wage and hour violations do not rise to the level of “intolerable” working conditions.

One example that might meet a constructive discharge standard is if an employee was repeatedly physically groped by a supervisor or manager, or that an employer failed to prevent a co-worker from repeatedly physically harassing an employee. If the employee knew that he or she had to work with that employee in a warehouse alone with the same harasser, the employee might win their case because they were compelled to resign to prevent future harm.

Another scenario might be that an employer failed to maintain safe working conditions, such as properly maintaining work vehicles. For example, employee is required to drive a truck. Truck recently malfunctioned due to poor breaks and the employee was injured in a crash. The next day the employer ordered driver to drive the same truck from San Francisco to Los Angeles without fixing the breaks. Employee might win a case for constructive discharge in violation of public policy if she felt she had to resign in order to protect her own safety and that of her fellow drivers on Interstate 5.

It is important to call a local employment attorney immediately if you believe you have been wrongfully terminated or demoted. If an employee is considering resigning due to intolerable working conditions, we strongly urge the employee to get a consultation with a qualified employment law specialist before resigning to make sure the conditions meet the test for constructive discharge in violation of public policy.

There are statutes of limitations (time limits) to consider when filing a wrongful termination claim. Learn your rights promptly and take appropriate action by contacting our Oakland wrongful termination lawyer for a free consultation.

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