Wrongful termination refers to the termination of an employee in violation of his or her legal rights. For an actionable wrongful termination claim, it is not enough for the employee to simply show that he or she was treated unfairly. Rather the employee must show that the firing was "wrongful," meaning one or more legal rights were violated.
In California, most employers designate their employees as "at-will," which means that they can terminate or demote their employees whether there is cause to do so or not. But there are numerous exceptions. For example, if an employee is fired or demoted due to unlawful discrimination or in retaliation for uncovering the employer's illegal activities or the existence of unsafe working conditions, the employee may have a case for wrongful termination.
Examples of unlawful reasons for termination include:
- Discrimination: An employer cannot terminate an employee because of his or her race, nationality, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, or disability.
- Retaliation: An employer cannot terminate an employee for complaining about discrimination or participating in an investigation for discrimination.
- Employee's refusal to commit or opposition to an illegal act: An employer cannot terminate an employee because he or she refuses to commit an act that is illegal or protests illegal conduct.