What Makes a Termination Wrongful?

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What Makes a Termination Wrongful?


A termination is “wrongful” when the reason is unlawful because it violates the employee’s rights under state or federal law, violates the employee’s contractual rights, or violates an important public policy. Termination is not “wrongful” simply because it is unfair. In fact, California is an “at-will” employment state, which means that either the employer or employee can end the working relationship at any time, with or without cause.

Claims for wrongful termination often arise when an employee is terminated based on the following reasons:

  • An employee’s protected characteristic (ex. age, race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc.)
  • The employee’s report of discrimination or harassment in the workplace;
  • Because the employee cooperated with an internal or external investigation;
  • An employee’s request for medical leave for themselves or their family member;
  • The employee reported, resisted, or refused to engage in illegal activity;
  • An employee’s request for reasonable accommodations for a disability;
  • The employee reported wage and hour violations (missed meal and rest breaks, unpaid overtime, minimum wage violations, etc.);
  • The employee reported unsafe working conditions;
  • The employee complained about the employer to a government agency;
  • An employee’s union activities;
  • In order to deprive the employee of some employment benefits (ex. fired in order to prevent the vesting of stock, payment of a bonus, etc.)

Any of these reasons would qualify a termination as wrongful, and damages may be owed. In the case of wrongful termination, the damages available include:

  1. Economic damages including repayment of lost wages (back pay and front pay), costs of finding a new job, medical expenses, etc.;
  2. Noneconomic damages, which includes compensation for emotional distress;
  3. Punitive damages, which are awarded against employers who have engaged in malice, oppression or fraud. Note: punitive damages are very rare and very difficult to obtain.
  4. Attorneys’ fees can also be recovered if you win your case in Court.

A claim for wrongful termination must be brought against the employer within 2 years of the termination date.

If you think you’ve been terminated wrongfully, you may have a case against your former employer. Set up a free consultation today by calling the Law Office of Jeannette A. Vaccaro at (415) 444-5800 or visit our website.

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Jeannette is passionate about employee rights. She fights to shed light on injustices and to help her clients move beyond troubling times. Contact Jeannette today for a free case evaluation.

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