Unlawful Dismissal from Employment: Legal Protections and Remedies

Unlawful Dismissal from Employment: Legal Protections and Remedies

Losing your job is stressful under any circumstance. But, when the termination is unlawful, the impact can be even more devastating. As an employee, you have legal rights and protections against wrongful termination. There are also legal remedies available depending on the conditions of your dismissal.

In this blog post, we will analyze wrongful discharge in detail – outlining what constitutes wrongful discharge, protected activities, and legal recourse. You’ll learn what forms of wrongful termination allow for lawsuits, key laws that protect workers, and what relief employees may be entitled to.

We will also provide an overview of the steps involved in building a strong claim against past employers to recover compensation.

What is Wrongful Termination?

At-will employment arrangements govern most California worker contracts, permitting either party to end the relationship anytime, provided no specific term period exists. However “at-will” fails blanket authorization for firing employees illegally or unethically.

Wrongful termination refers to being fired from a job for reasons considered illegal or improper. There are specific scenarios that categorize if a dismissal violates statutory rights or employment agreements – qualifying the termination as unlawful.

Some examples of wrongful discharge may include:

  • Discrimination: This involves dismissal based on protected classes such as race, gender, religion, disability, pregnancy status, or age. These firings breach civil rights laws.
  • Breach of Contract: Terminations that go against what is stated in an employment contract regarding reasons for discharge or severance can qualify as wrongful.
  • Retaliation: In cases where employees are fired for whistleblowing, taking medical leave, refusing to violate laws, or filing workplace complaints, wrongful retaliation comes into play.
  • Public Policy Violations: Some reasons for termination go against public policy and can qualify as wrongful discharge. For example, being fired for refusing to engage in illegal activities.

The key distinction setting wrongful termination apart from at-will firings is that the discharge is done for an inappropriate, unethical, or unlawful reason – violating the statute, public policy, or binding employer agreements. These elements factor into qualifying cases eligible for legal remedy.

Protected Activities Shielding California Employees

California State and federal employment laws contain provisions explicitly barring employers from terminating workers for engaging in key legally protected functions in support of public policy priorities. Protected categories include:

Whistleblowing Protections

California statutes safeguard employees reporting actual or reasonably suspected unlawful activities internally to management or externally to government authorities.

This covers criminal offenses plus violations of employment laws themselves – like harassment, discrimination, wage/hour theft, and workplace dangers. As long as procedural good-faith reporting drivers exist without malice/ulterior motives, employees qualify for retaliation protections.

Qualified Medical and Family Leave

Federal and California medical leave laws mandate employers to provide unpaid time off for employees meeting eligibility conditions and properly submitted/certified requests related to:

  • Their own or family members’ health situations
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, or adoption needs
  • Bonding with new children entering families
  • Caring for ill family members

Seeking reinstatement post-leave also remains protected from retaliation or dismissals forcing forfeiture of intended leave rights.

Workplace Hazard & Discrimination Grievances

When experiencing hostile, unsafe, or unlawful workplace environments, personnel reserve the right to lodge formal internal complaints with leadership, HR departments, or via external administrative charges filed with state/federal agencies like California’s CRD and Federal EEOC.

Protection extends across discrimination and harassment, failure to accommodate disabilities, unsafe conditions, wage/labor rights, and other offenses – provided good faith filing and participation motives without malicious fabrications.

Building Convincing Wrongful Termination Cases

If discharged under questionable pretenses, promptly gathering information and documentation helps demonstrate potentially unlawful motives. While exact evidence proving claims varies case by case, common examples include:

Severance Notices and Paper Trails

Carefully review written notices, exit Interview paperwork, severance details communicated, and formal HR process documentation tied to the termination event. Breaches of employment contract clauses, internal protocols failing to be followed, or standards of progressive discipline skipped often surface through studying these records. Our severance negotiations lawyer will help ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled to.

Timing Analysis on Protected Activities

Create detailed timelines documenting any whistleblower reports filed, grievance submissions logged, or medical/family leave notices tendered leading up to dismissal dates. In retaliation-based claims, showing close proximity (60-90 days often suffices) between engaging protected functions and subsequent firing builds wrongful inference.

Statistical Analysis of Peer Treatment

Compile retention rates, promotion frequency, compensation growth, and performance data regarding peer groups across legally protected classes related to allegations – gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, etc based on suit basis. Data revealing patterns disadvantaging only your group aids wrongful discharge claims.

Witness Testimonials

Written statements from colleagues, supervisors, or clients evidencing firsthand accounts of unlawful behaviors further bolsters wrongful allegations – such as racism, failure to accommodate disabilities, punitive actions threatening whistleblowers, and pay inequity patterns harming protected groups.

Legal Remedies Available to Wronged Employees

If unlawful dismissal complaints prove justified under California employment laws, common remedies workers can recover include:

  • Reinstatement Orders —  For still viable employer relationships, judges hold authority mandating worker reinstatement if wrongfully discharged. This means requiring the employer to re-hire staff into original or comparable roles plus provide back pay covering the entire period unable to work.
  • Wage Loss and Damages — Prevailing claimants also recoup compensatory damages for quantifiable losses tied to wrongful discharge.
  • General Economic and Non-Economic Damages — Plaintiffs can pursue sizeable general damages associated with the psychological impacts, stress, damaged reputation, and overall disruption arising through unjust terminations necessitating career changes or pivots.
  • Punitive and Liquidated Damages — In especially egregious cases or repeat/willful statutory violations, successful plaintiffs obtain additional liquidated damages levying penalties serving as further deterrents.
  • Attorney Fees — Employers bear financial responsibility for covering legal costs workers necessarily expend while pursuing a fair resolution to wrongful termination grievances.

Exact recovery sums remain contingent on many factors – including case merits, established precedents set by prior cases, statutes under which claims get filed, shifting societal attitudes, political landscapes, and so on, at the time legal decisions are rendered. But clear monetary and non-monetary reparations exist, recalibrating power imbalances.

Why Work With an Employment Law Attorney

Navigating employment separations spurring suspicion appropriately demands experienced counsel steering rights restoration. Beyond familiarity with nuanced wrongful termination elements, attorneys access resources, leveling playing fields against formidable HR departments.

Employment law attorneys allow employees to focus energy on restoring normalcy rather than learning procedural complexities. Whenever dismissal circumstances or employer responses heighten unease, know workplace justice advocates stand ready to confront overreaches.

Contact TONG LAW Today

Losing jobs for anything short of substantial performance issues or severe misconduct can wreak personal havoc. Yet California employment laws deter such arbitrary punishment, providing paths restoring dignity.

If any aspects of your termination breach standards for lawful discipline or contractual promises, please connect with our team. For years, TONG LAW has recovered millions for California employees by investigating questionable dismissals and aggressively prosecuting viable wrongful termination claims when uncovered. Contact us to partner with a dedicated firm that will fight on your behalf.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

LinkedIn | State Bar Association | Super Lawyers | Google