Wrongful Termination Questions
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What does it mean when an employer says they are an “at will” employer?
This means that an employer can terminate/layoff/fire you at any time and for any reason and you can quit at any time at any time and for any reasons. However, there are numerous important exceptions to this rule. For example, you may have an express or implied contract that requires that you can only be terminated for good cause. Or the real reason you are being terminated is due to some discriminatory or retaliatory motive. Or, an employer may be simply trying to do away with you because you have an disability or are pregnant or need time off for treatment due to your serious medical condition or that of a spouse, child or parent.
What if I have been forced to quit instead of face termination?
Do I still have any rights against my employer? If you can show that your employer created working conditions which were so intolerable that a reasonable employee would resign under your circumstances and those conditions were created by your employer due to a discriminatory motive (like gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disability, ethnic origin, religion etc.) a judge or jury could find that you were constructively terminated.
I believe I am being subjected to retaliation by my employer because I complained about or objected to conduct/activities which I feel were wrong. Do I have any rights?
Yes, there are numerous California and Federal laws that prohibit the employer from retaliating against you for asserting lawful rights or who act as whistle-blowers against wrongdoing at work. If you engage in such a protected activity under the law; for example you complained that you were being discriminated against or sexually harassed and your employer takes adverse action against you (eg;. a demotion, layoff, termination) an inference of retaliation may be created under California or Federal law. Employees can also be the victims of sexual harassment, physical intimidation, poor job reviews, wrongful termination, and other acts.
What if I was fired or laid off because I needed a leave (or even a few days off) to get treatment for a medical or psychiatric condition or because I was pregnant, do I have any rights?
Yes, in many cases you would and it would have been wrong for the employer to terminate you. If you needed a leave for a definite duration and the employer cannot show it was an undue hardship your leave should have been honored. Moreover, there are several State and Federal laws that may require the employer to provide you with leave time if you meet certain requirements under the Family Leave Act, California Family Rights Act; Pregnancy Disability Law, etc.
If I have a wrongful termination case, what kinds of damages are recoverable?
If the claim is based on a contract then contract damages typically apply (like lost wages and benefits as well as interest and court costs). For other kinds of wrongful termination cases the basic rule is that any damages you suffered are recoverable. This can be as simple as lost wages and benefits but it could also include damages for emotional distress and even physical injuries. It can be even broader than that. As a result of your termination you may have lost your home, your car or damaged your credit. If it can be shown your damages were caused by your termination they could be recoverable. Also, in some cases the court will award punitive damages, attorneys fees and even order job reinstatement.