Wrongful Termination Employment Cases & Being Employed “At-Will.”

Our firm is contacted on a daily basis by individuals who believe they were “wrongfully” terminated from their jobs and whether they have any remedies and/or rights to assert against their former employers.  Although being fired or laid off from your job may feel wrongful, California has specific requirements before a termination is deemed wrongful under the law, and thus actionable.  This article discusses the cause of action known as Wrongful Termination In Violation of Public Policy, its requirements, and its interplay with the at-will doctrine.

First and foremost, California Courts will allow for tort damages (i.e. backpay, front pay, emotional distress, punitive damages, etc.) when an employee is fired, laid, off, or otherwise let go from his or her job only if the termination was unlawful.  Not all terminations qualify as being unlawful, however, in the instances where they do, a cause of action for Wrongful Termination In Violation of Public Policy may lie.

In California, there is a rebuttable presumption that an employee was employed “at-will.” Under the at-will employment rule, when the employment is for an unspecified term, the employer can terminate an employee at any time, and the employee can quit at any time.  See Labor Code § 2922; Foley v. Interactive Data Corp. (1988) 47 Cal.3d 654, 680.  To rebut this presumption, an employee must demonstrate either a statutory exception to the at-will rule, or that public policy prevents the termination.

Even if you were an at-will employee, your employer could not have terminated you for an unlawful reason or for a purpose that violates fundamental public policy.  To support this claim, the employee would have to prove that public policy was (1) delineated in a statutory, conditional, or regulatory provision; (2) was public; (3) was well established; and (4) fundamental and substantial.  All four elements are necessary to prove a valid Wrongful Termination In Violation of Public Policy case.

If you have been terminated from your employment and believe that the termination was in fact wrongful, please contact our firm at (818) 835-5396 to further discuss your options.

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