Wrongful Termination In Violation Of Public Policy
In California, employment is generally considered “at will,” which means that an employer or employee can choose to terminate their relationship with their employee or employer without cause. Although this means that an employer may fire an employee for almost any reason, employers may not terminate employees for a reason that violates a public policy. In other words, a frivolous reason that is not illegal – like the boss hating the fact you are a Dodger fan – does not give rise to a valid lawsuit. However, employers may not terminate employees if the reason for doing so violates a fundamental public policy. These public policies can be found in either statutes, like the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or the California or United States constitutions. For example, firing an employee in retaliation for the employee reporting safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does give rise to legal claims.
Some examples of claims that could support a Wrongful Termination In Violation Of Public Policy lawsuit include employer actions (or alleged actions) against an employee such as:
- Retaliation for refusing to take part in illegal activities.
- Retaliation for participating in political activities outside of the workplace.
- Retaliation for seeking employee’s full wages from the employer.
- Retaliation for objecting to or reporting fraudulent practices.
- Discrimination based on supporting another employee’s claims of discrimination based on color, race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc.
- Retaliation after the employee refuses to sign a contract including an illegal provision, such as wage forfeiture in lieu of discipline, or a non-compete clause.
Unlike wrongful termination actions based on contracts, wrongful termination in violation of public policy is largely a court-created doctrine (often called a “common law cause of action”). A wrongful termination in violation of public policy is a type of case called a “tort”—a legal cause of action that has significant differences from contract actions. Torts are general wrongs that cause other people to suffer. So, wrongful termination actions fall into the same category of lawsuits as personal injury actions.
In tort actions, a victim can often pursue remedies like punitive damages or attorney fees. These additional damages are often a substantial benefit for employees that wouldn’t otherwise afford an attorney to prosecute their case. With these additional remedies, many attorneys are willing to take wrongful termination actions on a contingent fee basis.
Wrongful termination in violation of public policy is a type of cause of action. Every cause of action can be simplified into different elements that create the kind of situation where recovery would be available to a litigant. During a lawsuit, the person bringing the lawsuit (the employee) will be required to prove every element of the causes of action they allege. The elements for wrongful termination in violation of public policy are as follows:
An employment relationship existed. It doesn’t matter if the worker was a temporary employee, a full-time or part-time employee, or a contract employee. Independent contractors, however, generally cannot state a claim for wrongful termination, unless those independent contractors were misclassified and are actually employees.
The employer terminated the employee. In most cases, the employee cannot resign and still claim they were wrongfully terminated. There is, however, a substantially exception for constructive discharge—situations where an employer forces the employee to quit by making the workplace unbearable. It is also not enough to argue that the employer didn’t renew an employee’s contract. If an employment contract reaches the end of its term, nonrenewal is not a termination for these purposes.
Improper motivation. A substantial motivating factor in the employer’s decision to terminate the employee was a reason that violated public policy. Although there is not clear definition of what constitutes an improper motivation, it usually must violate a statute, regulation, or constitutional provision. The public policy must also benefit the public at large, rather than just one person. And it must be fundamental, substantial, and firmly established.
Damages: The termination must have harmed the employee.
- What Exactly Does Employment At-Will Mean In California?
- What Steps Should I Take If I Believe I Have Been Wrongfully Terminated In California?
What Type Of Employment Law Cases Does Your Firm Take On?
We handle individual lawsuits on the basis of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and improper actions against a whistleblower, as well as wage and hour violations cases, such as those involving unpaid overtime or missed meal breaks. We deal with cases related to the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), which involves representative actions against an employer who has uniform policies that are harmful to employees on issues such as pay and record-keeping. Read More
How Does The Employer’s Internal Complaint Process Work If Someone Reports That Their Rights Are Being Violated In The Workplace?
The internal complaint process depends on the employer, and usually these are spelled out in documents like an employee handbook. In terms of the reporting requirements, federal employees must report to the EEOC office within their agency. Employees who work for the University of California Regents, such as working within the hospital system or the student store at UCLA, employees must go through an internal process within the UC system. If the employee believes that trying to resolve the issue through the internal system will be futile and decides to go straight to court, the employee might lose their right to sue. Read More
If you need further information regarding Wrongful Termination In Violation Of Public Policy, please contact us at (310) 477-7767 or fill out the form here.
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