Most of us have experienced a bad boss once or twice. In today’s turbulent economy, it isn’t uncommon for workers to feel pigeonholed in dead-end careers, and “The Great Resignation” has continued to fuel worker migration nationwide as Americans search for new and sustainable jobs.

As California employees continue to seek new and promising work opportunities to provide for themselves and their loved ones, some workers may reap the misfortune of joining organizations that harbor hidden prejudices or biases, opening the door to employment discrimination and wrongful termination.

What happens if an employer fires you for reasons that are vague or unproven, such as having a bad attitude or “not being a good fit” for the company’s culture? Keep reading to learn more about at-will employment in California.

Understanding Wrongful Termination in California

As an at-will employment state, California employers have the right to terminate employees at any time for any reason or no reason at all. Despite this, there are certain legal protections in place to protect against unfair discrimination and termination in the workplace. For example, it’s unlawful for an employer to fire an employee based on the following protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity)

It’s also unlawful for employers to fire employees for exercising their legal rights, duties, or acting out of obligation to the greater public. For example, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers can’t fire an employee for deciding to become pregnant. Similarly, firing an employee for refusing to violate a statute or performing a statutory obligation can be grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

While employers can technically fire an employee without warning due to the “at-will” nature of employment, they must follow any rules set forth in the employment contract or company policy. They're also required to provide a termination letter (“Notice to Employee of Change in Relationship”) upon terminating an employee.

At-will employment can be tricky. While it's evidently unlawful for employers to lie to fire employees for unjust reasons, such cases can be complicated to prove in a court of law. If you suspect you were fired for discriminatory reasons under the guise of a vague cause, it's essential to consult with a skilled employment lawyer as soon as possible to protect your rights and preserve your economic security.

Can My Employer Lie to Get Me Fired?

Employers may have broad rights to terminate employment relationships, but they are also bound by legal obligations to respect the legal protections in place for California employees. How does this apply to wrongful terminations due to vague or unproven reasons, such as having a bad attitude or bad personality?

Technically, employers reserve the right to terminate employees who aren’t a good fit—even if they appeared to be when they were originally hired. While some employers are genuine and name such reasons in good faith, the unfortunate reality is that some employers do so as a means to accomplish unjust ends.

Firing an employee for “not being a good fit” or related statements can vary drastically when it comes to determining the true reason behind it. For example, consider an employee who was recently hired to fill a fast-paced sales position.

Perhaps they “wowed” their supervisor in their interview, but then failed to uphold that same momentum or meet certain standards for directness or responsiveness (important qualities for any successful sales department) after coming on board. In this case, it's possible for the employer to ethically conclude that the employee is a “poor fit” for the company's culture or client rapport.

On the other hand, firing employees who perform their jobs adequately and effectively, and consistently is likely to raise some eyebrows. In these cases, it’s imperative to seek counsel from an experienced employment law attorney, as fortifying your claim with strong evidence is nonnegotiable to be successful in a wrongful termination case.

7 “Red Flags” of Wrongful Termination in California

To successfully establish a claim for wrongful termination, employees must present strong evidence that supports at least one recognized legal ground for wrongful termination. This requires wrongfully fired employees to gather all relevant documentation—such as witness statements, performance reviews, and emails—to demonstrate that their termination was unlawful.

Below are 7 “red flags” that may indicate an employee’s termination was unlawful:

  1. Suspicious timing: If you're fired shortly after filing a complaint about harassment, discrimination, or unsafe work conditions, it might be a red flag for wrongful termination.
  2. Discriminatory remarks or actions: Comments or actions that indicate bias against your age, sex, race, religion, disability, or gender identity could suggest wrongful termination if these comments are followed by your dismissal.
  3. Frequent write-ups: If you are written up more than once in a short period of time without a valid reason, it might indicate that your employer is trying to create a paper trail to justify your termination.
  4. Retaliation: If you're terminated after reporting illegal activities within the company or participating in an investigation, this could be a sign of wrongful termination.
  5. Breaches of contract: If your termination violates the terms of your employment contract, whether written or implied, this could be a sign of wrongful termination.
  6. Inconsistent reasons for termination: If your employer gives shifting or inconsistent reasons for your termination, it may raise a red flag.
  7. Hostile work environment: If your workplace is characterized by harassment, intimidation, or unfair treatment, and these circumstances lead to your dismissal, it could be a sign of wrongful termination.

Knowledgeable Advocacy for California Employees

After practicing law for over 25 years, our seasoned employment law attorney has the in-depth knowledge and diverse experience to restore your employee rights after workplace misconduct, discrimination, or harassment. It isn't uncommon for large and powerful companies to take advantage of wronged workers, making it all the more crucial for California employees to know and exercise their rights as needed.

As a California worker, you have the right to a safe and respectful work environment.At Polaris Law Group, LLP, we have a longstanding track record of success in representing employees’ best interests in court. From religious discrimination to employer retaliation, our accomplished legal advocate can guide your steps wisely to recover maximum compensation on your behalf and restore your financial security.

Attorney Bill Marder is the trusted name for protecting employees’ rights in Monterey County. Call (888) 796-4010 to schedule a free consultation.

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