What is Wrongful Termination?

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Employment is At-Will with Exceptions

The vast majority of employers and workers in California have heard the term “at-will” employment.  Employers often interpret at-will employment to mean that employees could be terminated at the employer’s will.  Workers often interpret it to mean it that employers may not terminate an employee without a reason or notice or for unfair reasons.

The legal standards are somewhere in the middle.

In California, “at-will” employment means that an employer may terminate the employment relationship for any reason or for no reason at all.  On the flip side, employees may also quit for any reason or for no reason at all with or without notice.  However, on the employer side, there are certain restrictions or exceptions to the “for any reason or for no reason at all.”  That is, employers may not terminate (or make conditions such that an employee has no other choice but to quit) for a wrongful reason.  In other words, employers may terminate the relationship so long as the reason for the termination is not discriminatory, in breach of a contractual obligation, in retaliation for the employee’s exercise of their rights, or for other reasons deemed to violate public policy.

Bad Management vs. Wrongful Termination

Employers should understand that even when the termination is not legally wrongful, ineffective management, although not illegal, could still lead it to feel “wrong” to the employee.  This feeling that something isn’t right or fair often prompts workers to look for a wrongful termination lawyer.  Here are some of the common reasons that employees give when looking for a wrongful termination attorney:

  1. I had a new manager and was fired after receiving my first negative review.
  2. My boss took away my duties and gave it to another employee.
  3. I was fired for not meeting expectations but was never given clear goals.
  4. I was fired because I was not a good fit.
  5. I was fired for no reason at all.
  6. I was terminated after complaining about our new commission structure.
  7. I was terminated after complaining about our new bonus structure.
  8. I was terminated after complaining about my pay.

PRACTICAL TIP:  Prior to terminating an employee, employers should look at the events leading up to the termination and consider whether the termination could lead the employee to ask any of the questions above.  If the answer is yes, seek counsel to help you prevent a wrongful termination lawsuit before it happens.  Even when there is no wrongful reason for the termination, there mere perception of unfairness could result in costly litigation.

If you have questions about at-will employment and wrongful termination, contact me or call (949) 529-0007.

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In: Employment Law

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