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Two Common Questions Employees in California Ask About Their Rights

  • Unfortunately, employers in California rarely provide their employees sufficient training, so that their employees know all their rights in the workplace.  Most employers only do the legal minimum of what the State of California requires to inform employees of their rights.  There are two common questions employees often have when they are terminated:
    1. Can my employer terminate me for a reason that is unfair or unreasonable without first providing me a warning?
    2. What terminations are illegal?
    Can my employer terminate me for a reason that is unfair or unreasonable without first providing me a warning? The general rule in California is that if there is no express or implied employment contract or agreement between the employee and the employer, an employee is presumed to be employed “at will.”  “At will” employment means that an employee can be terminated without warning, without the employer having to establish a just or good reason for the termination.  In short, even if you were terminated for an unfair reason, which was totally unreasonable, your employer did not necessarily violate the law.  However, if you have an agreement with your employer that you will be employed for a certain period of time, or you cannot be terminated without good cause, then you are not an “at will” employee.  A California employment lawyer who is experienced in the area of employment law will be able to determine whether you are an “at will” employee, or whether some employment agreement (oral, written, or implied) controls your employment relationship. What terminations are illegal? In California, a termination that was for an illegal reason or motivation is referred to as a wrongful termination.  A wrongful termination is when an employee is terminated because of an illegal motivation or reason.  For example, in California some motivations, which may be illegal to terminate an employee for, include, but are not limited to:  because an employee is pregnant, complains about sexual harassment, is disabled, is taking protected medical leave, is over 40 years old, or is complaining about their employer violating a law intended to protect the public or employees. There are numerous laws found in statutes, regulations, ordinances, the California or U.S. Constitution, and/or other public policy, which make certain motivations to terminate an employee illegal. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it illegal to terminate an employee because of their race, color, ancestry, national origin, mental or physical disabilities, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or taking qualified family or medical leave. Fortunately, even if an employee is employed “at will” their employer cannot terminate them for illegal motivations, or reasons that violate California public policies. California employment law makes it illegal to terminate an employee for reasons which California public policy protects or makes illegal.  For example, generally it would be illegal to terminate an employee because they:  complained about OSHA violations in the workplace, complained about not getting paid minimum wage or receiving overtime, complained about not being allowed to take lunch or rest breaks, complained about an unsafe condition in the workplace, were advocating a certain political position, or were asserting a legal right like to not be sexually harassed.  There are far too many laws that protect employees from termination for illegal motivations to mention here in this blog.  An employee should always seek the advice of an experienced California employee rights lawyer to determine whether their termination was unlawful. It is important for employees in California to be aware of their rights as employees.  If an employee is not aware of their rights, their employer can easily take advantage of them.  It is all too common for employers to violate employees’ legal rights.  Additionally, California employment law is so complex and multifaceted an employee really needs the help of an experienced California employee rights lawyer to help them understand when they believe their rights have been violated.

If you think you have been wrongfully terminated, or have had your rights as an employee violated, please feel free to contact