Wrongful job termination rights in California give workers who believe their employer unfairly fired them from their job, recourse for action against employers. Unless an individual has an employment contract or works under a collective bargaining agreement, his employment falls under the "at will" doctrine. This means an employer may demote or terminate the job or the employee can resign without giving a reason. The employer does not have to give employees a warning.
Unfair termination comes in a variety of forms. Some of the most common violations occur when employers violate federal or California anti-discrimination laws. Sexual harassment or retaliating against employees for "whistleblowing" violates California statutes. Whistleblowing occurs when a public or private sector employee discloses abuses in the workplace, including mismanagement, fraud or other illegal activity. Additionally, employers that fail to honor employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements may incur lawsuits for unfair termination.
Generally, employers bound by collective bargaining agreements can only terminate employees for cause. The employer must follow a predetermined set of procedures before firing a worker covered by the agreement. Terminated employees may have the right to file a grievance or take their issue to an arbitrator. Most union contracts prohibit workers from taking the matter to court. However, wrongful terminations based on discrimination may entitle workers to civil action.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act and California Whistleblower Protection Statute, as well as many court decisions provide employees protection against wrongful termination. Although many people define "wrongful termination" as unfair firing from a job, the act may be "unfair, but does not necessarily constitute wrongful termination. For example, an "at will" employee may lose his job to make room for the owner's son-in-law. This act may be unfair, but has no foundation for a wrongful termination action.
Employees can file wrongful termination claims with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Possible remedies include reinstatement, back pay, compensation for emotional suffering and punitive damages. The employer may also be required to make mandatory modifications to its policy to protect other employees. The remedies for whistleblower violations include the above damages, possible misdemeanor charges against the employer and up to one year incarceration. Fines range from $1,000, to $5,000.
In most cases, workers can also initiate private litigation. California has a one year statute of limitation for allegations of wrongful termination against public agencies. Claims against private employers have a three year window for filing litigation.
Right to Sue Letter
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has a system enabling workers to bypass the agency and obtain a "right to sue notice." This step waives the DFEH obligation to conduct an investigation into the matter. The notice allows workers to file action in California state court.