The “at-will” approach only goes to show that when it comes to employment, nothing is guaranteed. Unless an employee’s contract with his or her employer states that he or she can only be fired for good cause, he or she is considered as an “at-will” employee, or someone who can be terminated at any time and for any (or for no) reason. This approach applies in most workplaces in California where, unfortunately, cases of wrongful termination are quite common.
This adverse employment action is based on reasons that are considered illegal or go against what are considered exceptions to the “at-will” rule. Indeed, terminating them for discriminatory reasons or for exercising a certain right could be valid grounds for the employee to bring a claim of wrongful termination against his or her employer.
Every state’s wrongful termination law is different, but they generally serve as valid grounds for wrongfully terminated employees to exercise their legal rights against their employers. Below is a list of some of the exceptions, with respect to federal and California laws, which would be their basis for bringing wrongful termination claims:
(1) Termination as a form of discrimination or retaliation
Both the federal and California laws prohibit employers from terminating employees on the basis of protected characteristics such as age, national origin, religion, color, race, disability, genetic information, or citizenship status. The federal laws include, among others, the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Most of the laws apply for employers with at least 15 employees, but the ADEA covers employers with 20 employees or more, as well as the INA covering employers with more than 3 and fewer than 15 employees. Meanwhile, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the state statute that also protects employees from wrongful termination on the basis of protected characteristics. Aside from national origin, sex, race, color, religion, age, and genetic information, it also protects individuals from the adverse employment action based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, medical condition, and marital status, among others.
The laws under the FEHA apply for employers with at least 5 employees. Both federal and California laws also prohibited employers from terminating employees in retaliation for doing what is considered a workplace right. Indeed, any employee who was terminated for complaining about a discriminatory action by his or her employer or for participating in an investigation for someone else’s complaint of discrimination can bring a claim of wrongful termination claim against his or her employer.