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Understanding wrongful termination

California is an at-will employment state, which means that companies can fire most workers at any time for any reason. However, some types of termination violate state or federal laws.

Review the circumstances that may constitute wrongful termination to find out whether you may have a case.

Illegal types of termination

Your employer cannot fire you for reasons involving federally protected status. You may have a legal claim if you think the company terminated you because of your:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Mental or physical disability
  • Religion
  • Age if you are at least 40
  • Pregnancy status
  • Marital status
  • National origin
  • Sex or gender orientation

Illegal termination may also occur when the employer breaches your employment contract. Laws also prohibit firing a worker for whistleblowing or taking protected time off (through the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example).

The process of filing a claim

First, you must file an official notice of your claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 10 days of the alleged wrongful termination. The agency will contact both you and your employer within 10 days with a course of action, which may include:

  • Dismissing your claim
  • Ordering mediation with your employer
  • Ordering your employer to answer the charges and opening an investigation

You must be able to prove that the company terminated your employment illegally. Gather evidence that supports your claim, such as a history of harassment or discrimination against your protected class or replacement by someone who is not a member of your protected class. You should also present your employment contract, copies of performance reviews and copies of correspondence with your employer.