Can I Sue My Employer After Being Fired?
One of the most common questions employment attorneys are asked is whether an employer can be sued after a termination has occurred. Like many questions in the law, the answer is “it depends.”
At-Will Employment in California
California, like most states, is an “at-will” employment state. This means that unless the employee has a contract stating that the employment will last for a particular period of time, an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, or for no reason. It’s even legal for an employer to fire an employee for a false or mistaken reason – so long as it’s not for an unlawful reason.
On the other hand, under at-will employment, the employee can quit at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all.
The bottom line: At-will employment means that unless there is a contract stating that your employment will last for a specific period of time, an employer can fire you at any time, for any reason. However, at-will employment doesn’t permit an employer to fire you for an illegal reason. There are many reasons a termination can be unlawful, such as if the decision to terminate is based on disability, race, religion, or because you opposed discrimination or harassment, or exercised certain rights under the law.
“Wrongful Termination” – What Is It?
Wrongful termination is a concept under California law that permits an employee to sue if he or she is terminated for an illegal reason, or for a reason that is against an important public policy. Examples of wrongful termination include terminating an employee because of:
- Taking leave under FMLA or CFRA
- Filing a worker’s compensation claim
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Military or veteran status
- Opposing discrimination or harassment
- Reporting illegal conduct to a superior or law enforcement
- Filing a claim for unpaid wages
- Exercising other rights under the law
Often, when a termination is unlawful, the employee will have claims for discrimination, harassment and other causes of action, in addition to wrongful termination.
What Can I Recover in a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
If you have a valid claim, you can recover lost wages and interest, together with costs and attorney’s fees. In certain cases, punitive damages may be available as well.