Was your termination illegal?

Frank S. Clowney III

Wrongful termination refers to a firing that is illegal. However, while every termination can be distressing, not every case is unlawful.

To know whether an employer violated your rights by firing you, you can start by answering the following questions.

What was the reason behind the firing?

Most employment relationships are at-will, meaning both the employer and the employee can end it at any time for any (or no) reason. However, employers cannot fire someone for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons.

That said, employers will often give an employee a reason for firing them. They might cite poor performance, misconduct or conflicts with other employees, which are lawful reasons for termination. There may be sufficient evidence to back up these claims.

However, if the true motivation behind the termination was because an employee is in a protected category or engaged in protected activity, it can be illegal.

Are you in a protected category?

California employment laws prohibit discrimination against employees due to:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Physical ability
  • Marital status
  • Sex
  • Genetic information
  • Gender expression

If an employer fires someone because of these factors, it is discriminatory and, therefore, wrongful.

Did you recently engage in protected activity?

Employees have the right to participate in certain activities, including measures to ensure a workplace is safe and complies with state and federal laws. Thus, employers cannot legally terminate a worker for:

  • Filing a sexual harassment complaint
  • Reporting a workplace hazard
  • Refusing to perform illegal actions on the job
  • Taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Requesting an accommodation
  • Being a whistleblower
  • Seeking workers’ compensation

If you recently engaged in these activities and were fired, the termination may be retaliatory and wrongful.

What evidence is there?

Wrongful termination claims can be challenging, especially when an employer lies about the reasons for letting someone go.

Thus, having evidence can bolster your claim. Examples of evidence could include:

  • Email exchanges
  • Performance reviews
  • Voicemails
  • Statements from coworkers
  • Related employment decisions

These details can disprove the stated reason for the termination or support claims of retaliation and discrimination.

Your answers to these questions can help you gauge whether your employer wrongfully terminated you. However, because these cases can be so complicated, discussing your legal options with an attorney can be wise.

Wrongful termination takes a very real toll on workers, and employees have the right to protect against it.