California is an at-will employment state, which means that generally, both employers and employees can terminate their employment at any time, without cause or notice. There are, however, some reasons for which a person cannot legally be terminated. For instance, federal and state laws specifically protect employees from being fired because of their race, sex, age, religion, or disability, and bar employers from terminating employees because they engage in certain protected activities, like taking leave, reporting safety violations, and filing workers’ compensation claims.
While many employers are careful to abide by these laws and treat their employees fairly, an alarming number are not so conscientious. Fortunately, those who find themselves unlawfully fired can hold their employers liable for wrongful termination. If you or a loved one were recently fired for a discriminatory or otherwise unlawful purpose, you should consider speaking with wrongful termination attorneys San Francisco who can walk you through your recovery options.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act, employees cannot be fired because of their race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. In addition, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects female employees from being fired or laid off because of pregnancy. In fact, most employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant or disabled employees, which includes providing light duty or alternative assignments, approving disability leave, or allowing an employee to take unpaid leave.
Similarly, employees cannot be fired because they have a disability or they are over 40 years old, as long as the individual in question is qualified to perform the specific job duties in question. Finally, employers are strictly forbidden from terminating a person’s employment because he or she opposed or reported workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment, or participated in an investigation into incidences of such conduct.
In addition to being protected from termination based on discrimination, employees cannot be disciplined or terminated for engaging in certain protected activities, including:
Employers who fail to abide by these rules and who discipline, demote, or terminate an employee for engaging in protected activity may be liable for damages, including back wages, as well as compensation for lost benefits, legal fees, emotional distress, and liquidated damages.
In California, most employees are hired on an at-will basis, but many also enter into official employment contracts when they start work for an employer. When these contracts offer employees additional protections, such as a guarantee that termination will only occur for certain reasons or after certain procedures have been completed, an employer cannot violate those terms by later terminating the employee for other reasons. Although employee handbooks are generally not considered contracts, they can be a good indicator of whether an employer’s conduct is unlawful.
To speak with an experienced wrongful termination lawyer about your own employment rights, please contact Olivier Schreiber & Chao LLP by phone or online message.
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