In most cases, California law recognizes “at-will” employment, which means either the employer or employee could end the relationship at any time without a good reason. This means that, technically, you could fire an employee simply because they wore red too much or because you disagreed about liking a certain television show. Similarly, employees generally have the right to walk off the job without a real explanation.
There are some very important exception to the at-will doctrine, however, and any business owner who has at least one employee should be fully aware of these. Consulting with a business and employment lawyer is always the best way to determine whether or not you could face a legal claim and be liable for wrongful termination. In the meantime, this two-part series will explore five situations that could constitute wrongful termination.
Breach of contract – If you and the employee signed an employment contract, you are expected under the law to abide by the terms of that contract and termination can often constitute an illegal breach. For example, if the contract states that the empoyee will work for a period of two years unless either of you have good cause for ending the employment relationship, you can no longer simply fire them for a frivolous reason. Instead, they must engage in some type of misconduct or other behavior that establishes good cause for termination. On the other hand, the employee also must have a good cause for leaving the employment or risks being liable for breach of contract.
One recent example of a potential wrongful termination case is when Hollywood actor and notorious bad boy Charlie Sheen suddenly disagreed with costar Selma Blair on the set of their FX show, “Anger Management.” Sheen sent Blair a text message informing her that she was fired, despite having significant time left in her contract. Blair threatened to sue for wrongful termination, though dropped the threat with the production company agreed to pay her the rest of her salary even though she would no longer appear in the show.
Discrimination – Both federal and state laws prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee based on certain protected factors. In California, these factors include the following:
· National origin and language
· Sex (including pregnancy and related conditions)
· Gender, gender expression, and gender identity
· Sexual orientation
· Marital status
· Genetic information
· Medical conditions
· Mental or physical disability
· Status as a military member or veteran
If an employee believe that you fired them for any of the above reasons, you may end up facing a wrongful termination lawsuit.
The New York Mets baseball team is currently struggling with a wrongful termination claim filed by six security personnel who were terminated in 2013. The Mets organization claimed that they were fired for altered time cards discovered in an internal investigation, though the former workers claim the termination was based on age and sex discrimination. Sometimes, even if you have a valid reason for firing someone, they may come forward and claim that your stated reason is only pretextual and that your true reason was unlawful discrimination. In such situations, it is important to have a qualified attorney to help you avoid wornigful liability.
Please read Part Two of this article for additional examples of wrongful termination situations. If you have any questions regarding wrongful termination, please call the Law Offices of Nate Kelly at 310-228-6215 or 415-336-3001 today.