In California, there is a civil action called "Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy," or "tortious termination," which may protect employees who have been demoted or terminated in violation of a public policy found in the Constitution, a statute or regulation. However, not all provisions in the state or federal constitution, statutes or regulations are sufficient to create a public policy protecting an employee from termination. An experienced employment law attorney should be consulted to determine whether there is a public policy created by a constitution, statute or regulation that makes a termination unlawful, so that the employee could bring a civil suit.
Typically, a Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy case involves an employee being terminated in violation of a public policy created by a statute or regulation. In order for a statute or regulation to be sufficient to create a public policy that will support a tortious termination civil suit, the statute or regulation must be such that its purpose is intended to benefit society at large, rather than just protect an individual's personal interests. Courts must go through a complicated analysis to determine whether a statute or regulation is sufficient to create a public policy, which will support a civil suit for Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy. When a public policy is sufficient to support a tortious termination suit, an employer's liability can be established by proving a motivating reason for the employee's termination violated that public policy. Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy cases typically involve employees who are terminated in retaliation for exercising a legal right, terminated for asserting a legal right, terminated for protesting or reporting illegal conduct, or the employee's termination itself violates the public policy. An attorney should always be consulted to determine whether the specific situation will support a civil suit for tortious termination.
When continuing employment with an employer would be so intolerable that no reasonable person would have any alternative but to resign, the law may treat a resignation as if it were a termination. However, always consult an attorney before resigning to determine whether there is a "constructive discharge."