Wrongful Termination Law in California – The Ultimate Guide Online

This webpage is the single best resource on the internet on wrongful termination law in California. As you’ll quickly see, there is no better place anywhere on the web for normal folks to learn about this subject. Each chapter, citation, and video was created by Branigan Robertson, a wrongful termination lawyer in Southern California.

A wrongful termination lawyer represents employees who were unlawfully fired or “laid-off” by filing a lawsuit in court against the person’s former employer. This type of lawyer recovers lost wages and emotional distress damages, usually via a private settlement, for the victim.

The goal of this page is to answer your questions:

  • It answers common questions employees have about wrongful termination generally,
  • It details California law without legal jargon,
  • It will help you decide if you need to contact an employment lawyer, and
  • It explains how much money wrongful termination cases are worth.

Mr. Robertson took a full month out of his busy schedule to create this page. If you’re an honest person, and you believe you are a victim of wrongful termination, contact Branigan’s office as soon as possible for a free consultation. If you want to learn about other areas of employment law, visit our homepage.

How to Use This Guide

This guide is separated into Chapters. At a minimum, we strongly recommend that you watch the videos on this page. In each video, employment lawyer Branigan Robertson explains the most important parts of California law that you need to know. The text of each Chapter then goes into more detail. Every section is filled with footnotes that link to the relevant legal authority.

For your convenience, the Table of Contents is linked to the Chapters below. That way you can quickly jump down to whatever area of the Guide applies to you.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Overview of Wrongful Termination – The Basics

If you would prefer, you can also watch this video on YouTube.

Wrongful termination generally means that an employee was terminated or laid-off from their job in violation of a specific legal employment right.

In most situations, companies are allowed to fire employees without legal repercussions.1 This is due to California’s “at-will” doctrine (more on that later).2 In fact, the CA Supreme Court goes so far to say,

“While an at-will employee may be terminated for no reason, or for an arbitrary or irrational reason, there can be no right to terminate for an unlawful reason….”3

So, that obviously begs the question, what are the unlawful reasons? California recognizes many reasons. Chapter 3 covers almost all of them. But for this introductory chapter, generally4, it is unlawful to fire an employee who:

  1. Refuses to violate a written law,5
  2. Performs an action required by law,6
  3. Exercises a right or privilege guaranteed by law,7 or
  4. Reports an alleged violation of an important law.8

If you can prove that your employer fired you because you did one of the above things, then you may have solid grounds to pursue a case.

Why would you want to pursue a lawsuit? If you win a wrongful termination case, the employer may be forced to pay your lost wages and bonuses (back-pay),9 future lost wages (front-pay),10 emotional distress damages,11 and punitive damages.12 Moreover, if your wrongful discharge case involves a law that requires the payment of attorney’s fees (like discrimination), your attorney may be able to recover those as well in a separate cause of action.

When being fired for one of the above public policies, employers usually don’t admit to it. They usually fire the employee for a fake reason, like “poor performance” or “tardiness.” This fake reason is called a pretext. To learn more about how pretext plays out in employment lawsuits, visit our pretext termination page.

This guide details every important aspect that you should evaluate and consider. Mr. Robertson has gone to exhaustive effort to identify and explain every major consideration that you should look at before taking action. If you would like to have an experienced employment lawyer evaluate your wrongful termination case for you, Branigan’s office would be honored to provide you with a free consultation.

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Chapter 2 – The Illusion of the “At-Will” Doctrine

While the “at-will doctrine” is a real thing, it’s far less important than most California employees think. Before I explain exactly why, it’s important that you first understand what the at-will doctrine seeks to accomplish.

The Goal of the At-Will Doctrine

California Labor Code § 2922 states:

“An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other. Employment for a specified term means an employment for a period greater than one month.”13

I know that law is confusing for non-lawyers, so let me break it down for you. Essentially, CA’s at-will law seeks to declare two things:

  1. Unless an employment contract says otherwise, everyone who gets a job in California is presumed to be an at-will employee,14
  2. Employers are allowed to fire at-will employees at any time with or without notice. Similarly, employees are allowed to quit at any time with or without notice.15

Due to this law, employers do not need to have “cause” to fire employees. “Cause” is legal jargon to say “a good reason.” Employers can fire you because they don’t like the way you’re doing your job – they don’t have to have a great reason to fire you. Similarly, employees are allowed to quit at any time for any reason. You can quit because you simply don’t like your boss. Neither the employer or employee is legally required to continue working together. There is no such thing as indentured servitude in California.

The goal of CA’s at-will law is to minimize disputes and increase the speed of business. Employers would quickly go out of business if every time they fired a bad employee, they had to legally prove that they had cause. Everyone agrees that some people are just really bad at their job, and employers need to be able to fire them without spending thousands of dollars proving it. 

There Are Exceptions to the At-Will Doctrine

Over the past several decades, California courts have repeatedly held that companies do not have an absolute or total right to discharge at-will employees.16 As you’ll see below, there are so many exceptions that the at-will doctrine has lost a lot of teeth.

The Contract Exceptions:

  1. Public sector employees are usually protected by specific civil-service laws or a union that addresses discipline, termination, and related issues.
  2. Most union employees have a “just cause” provision in their collective bargaining agreement that prohibits termination unless the employer has a good reason.17
  3. Executive employees who have a written employment contract for longer than one month. Also, many executives have a “good cause” provision in their contract.

The Statutory Exceptions:

Obviously, those contractual exceptions don’t apply to the typical employee in California. There are, on the other hand, an incredible number of statutory exceptions to the at-will doctrine. A “statutory” exception is simply one written down in a law. We cover all of them in the next Chapter, but here is a small sample:

  • Employers are prohibited by CA state law from terminating employees because of their age, race, religion, gender, disability, etc.18
  • Companies are prohibited from firing an employee because he or she complained about workplace safety.19
  • Employers are not allowed to discharge an employee for taking a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).20 This includes things like pregnancy leave, maternity leave, and leaves of absence to deal with a serious health condition that you or a family member are experiencing.
  • Employers are not allowed to fire people because of their political opinions.21
  • Companies are not allowed to terminate a worker for making a complaint that he or she is owed wages.22
  • Employers are not allowed to discharge someone because they filed a workers’ compensation claim.23
  • Companies are not allowed to terminate people for refusing to participate in any activity that would violate state or federal law, regulation, or rule.24

We will cover a lot more of these statutory exceptions in Chapter 3. 

The Public Policy Exceptions:

This exception confuses a lot of people. But it isn’t confusing when it’s explained in the following way:

In many situations, a company will fire an employee for a reason that technically doesn’t violate the law (or a written law), but the termination nevertheless violates an important “public policy” of California or the Federal Government.

The policies at issue are well established and fundamental. Here are a few examples:

  • A company is not allowed to fire an employee for complaining about violations of public safety regulations. For example, firing an employee for refusing to ship airplane parts that failed to meet inspection criteria in violation of the FAA.25
  • Employers are not allowed to fire an employee for refusing to engage in unlawful price fixing.26
  • Firing an employee for refusing to sign an employment agreement that contains illegal provisions is a violation of public policy. For example, refusing to sign a contract that contains an unlawful non-compete provision.27

We cover more public policies in detail in Chapter 3.

Overall, being an at-will employee means far less than most people think. If you have complained about something unlawful, or refused to do something at work you believe to be unlawful, and your employer fires you for it, you may have a case for wrongful termination. We highly recommend that you get your case reviewed by employment attorney Branigan Robertson as soon as possible after your dismissal. 

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Chapter 3 – Company Actions that are Considered Wrongful Termination

This Chapter identifies all the actions that can constitute wrongful termination. As you’ll see, there are a lot of reasons why employers cannot fire you (even if you are an “at-will” employee). 

Before we begin detailing these reasons, you must understand that you must prove that the company fired you because you engaged in one of the below protected activities. Your lawyer will have to prove a nexus between your protected activity and the termination.28

For example, let’s pretend that you complained about an unsafe working environment and then you were fired. At first it may look like you were fired because of your complaint. But if your employer can prove they actually fired you because you embezzled a thousand dollars, then you’re not going to win your case, obviously. 

There are five categories of employer actions that can constitute unlawful action:

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Sub-Chapter 3.1 – Unlawful Retaliation 

Generally, it is against the law to terminate employees who report unlawful company activities to a boss, supervisor, company owner, regulatory agency, government, or some other oversight authority. As a general rule, if you got fired soon after you made a complaint about something, we recommend that you contact a wrongful termination lawyer like Branigan Robertson as soon as possible. 

More specifically, to establish a case of wrongful termination based on retaliation, an employee must show (1) he or she engaged in a protected activity (see the below list), (2) the employer subjected him or her to an adverse employment action (i.e. termination), and (3) there is a causal link between the two (meaning the termination was substantially motivated by the protected complaint).29

The primary benefit in consulting with a wrongful termination attorney after you are fired is he or she will be able to look at the facts and circumstances surrounding your dismissal and tell you whether or not you’ll be able to prove that your protected complaint or activity caused your termination. If you’re not a lawyer and you haven’t studied employment law, this is almost impossible to do. Non-lawyers who haven’t gone through litigation and discovery are totally incapable of judging the likelihood of success. So, what are the protected complaints or activities? As you can see from the list below, there are a lot in California.

Complaints Regarding Workplace Safety

It is unlawful for a company to fire an employee because the worker complained about workplace safety.30 This includes complaints about faulty machinery, unstable co-workers, tripping hazards, sexual harassment, chemical exposure, and others.

Along the same lines, it is against the law for a company to fire an employee because the employer fears the worker will complain about safety violations in the future.31 Moreover, the complaint doesn’t have to be about your safety, it can be regarding the safety of others.

Reporting Unlawful Company Activity to a Supervisor

It is unlawful in California for a corporation to fire an employee because he or she reported violations of law to a supervisor.32 This is one of the most common types of wrongful termination cases in California.

Generally, this complaint can be made to your immediate supervisor, human resources, company ownership, or any other person who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or non-compliance. 

Importantly, you must have reasonable cause to believe that the information that you disclosed to your supervisor identifies a violation or non-compliance with a law, rule, or regulation.33 Moreover, your complaint should be fairly specific. It doesn’t have to identify the exact law or statute, but it should give a reasonable person a very clear idea of what law you’re referring too. Complaints that are extremely vague may not be specific enough to win your case.

Opposing Discrimination or Harassment

It is a violation of California law to “discharge, expel, or otherwise discriminate” against any person because he or she opposed discriminatory or harassing practices forbidden under CA’s anti-discrimination law.34 Moreover, it is against the law to fire an employee because he or she has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding relating to a discrimination or harassment case filed under the Fair Employment & Housing Act.35

Expressing Your Political Views

It is unlawful for your boss, manager, or employer to retaliate against you for your political beliefs. Employers are not allowed to coerce you or attempt to influence your political beliefs with the threat of termination.36

With that said, it is completely legal for your employer to terminate you if you are being rude, inconsiderate, or intolerant because of your political views. So, don’t be a political snob at work (normal people don’t talk politics at work anyway). However, if your boss is the political know-it-all at work, and you believe you were fired because he/she found out you don’t agree with him, contact a wrongful termination attorney like Branigan as soon as possible.

Reporting Unlawful Company Activity to a Government Agency

It is unlawful in California for an employer to fire an employee because he or she blew the whistle and reported violations of law to a government or law enforcement agency.37 This also applies to employees who provide information to any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry. The law also covers employees who are subpoenaed by a public agency.38 This is often referred to as whistleblowing.

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Reporting Fraudulent Bills to the Government

As we detailed above, it is unlawful to terminate an employee because he or she discovered and disclosed his company’s illegal acts to a government authority. This is known as whistleblowing. But there is an additional protection when it involves money paid by the government. When a company submits false bills to the government (such as invoices to Medicare, Medicaid, etc), and then receives money based on those fraudulent invoices, employees can file a claim under the False Claims Act.39 This is where the employee discovers and reports that his or her employer knowingly presented a false or fraudulent claim for payment to the government. If you are then fired because your employer finds out you filed the False Claims Act case, you can sue for wrongful termination.

Refusing to Participate in Violations of Law, Rules, or Regulations

It is not uncommon for companies to ask their employees to do something that breaks the law. Sometimes the employer knows it’s against the law, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, it is against the law for an employer to fire you because you refused to participate in activities that you reasonably believe violate the law.40

It is very important that your complaint be about federal or state laws, rules or regulations. It cannot simply be about policies or practices of the employer that are unwise, wasteful, constitute gross misconduct or the like, or unsavory actions.41 It actually needs to be a violation of a state or federal statute, rule, or regulation.

Disclosing the Amount of Your Wages

Some employers do not want you to tell co-workers how much you’re getting paid. In California, it is against the law for an employer to fire you for disclosing how much money you make.42

Not only that, but it’s against the law for an employer to make a rule that prohibits disclosure, or require, as a condition of employment, that an employee to keep their wages confidential.43

Filing a Workers Compensation Claim

It is against the law for a company to fire an employee because that worker was injured on the job and filed a workers’ compensation claim.44 This law identifies numerous penalties that may be slapped on employers who retaliate against injured workers, including reinstatement, wage reimbursement, and increased workers’ compensation payments.

However, due to a weird jurisdictional rule, you can’t sue for wrongful termination under this law because the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) has exclusive jurisdiction to hear claims under CA Labor Code § 132a.45 But do not despair! You may still be able to pursue a disability discrimination lawsuit, which offers workers better legal protection and remedies under California employment law.

Military Service

It is absolutely against the law for employers to fire someone because they have served in the military or have applied to serve in the military. It is also against the law to deny employment or re-employment on the basis of military service.46 There is an entire body of law called the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA).

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Filing a Complaint with the Labor Board

When employees are not paid their full wages, they can file a claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (also known as the “DLSE,” “Labor Board,” or “Labor Commissioner”). The Labor Commissioner will investigate the complaint and try to facilitate a resolution.47

However, if the employer retaliates and terminates the employee for filing the complaint, they can be sued for wrongful termination.48

Complaining to Your Supervisor that You Are Owed Wages

It is unlawful for an employer to terminate you because you complained about not being paid all your earned wages or commissions.49 Moreover, it is unlawful to terminate someone to avoid paying them earned wages or commissions.50 You can sue for wrongful termination if your employer fires you to avoid paying you, or to retaliate against you for complaining to your supervisor that you have not been paid properly.

Suing Your Employer for Civil Penalties for Failing to Pay Wages to You and Other Employees

It is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee because he or she is suing the employer in a civil action for civil wage penalties under California’s Private Attorney’s General Act (PAGA).51

Lawful Conduct During Non-Working Hours

In some situations, you can sue for wrongful termination if you are fired for personal activities that you engaged in during non-work hours and away from the employer’s premises.52 However, this activity must be based on plaintiff’s assertion of a recognized constitutional right. This is a difficult burden and some case law is not favorable.53

Disclosing Information About Your Working Conditions

It is unlawful for your employer to fire you because you disclosed information about your working conditions. However, this law does not permit employees to disclose trade secrets, proprietary information, or other confidential information subject to legal privilege.54

In one case, employees gathered and discussed the employer’s pay and bonus structure. Afterwards, a company executive found out about the meeting and said he was upset that discussions of pay and bonus were happening. Six days after the gathering, the plaintiff (employee) was fired. The court held that she could sue for wrongful termination.55

Whistleblowing – Reporting Violations of Federal Securities Laws

Publicly traded companies may not discharge or retaliate against employees for reporting that the employer has violated a federal securities law.56 This usually involves an employee who discovers that his or her employer is reporting inaccurate financial information.

Illiteracy That Does Not Affect Job Performance

California law prohibits employers from firing employees because they are illiterate (meaning they cannot read) so long as they can perform the job satisfactorily.57

Taking Time Off to Appear at Your Child’s School When Requested by a Teacher After Your Child Has Been Suspended

It is unlawful to fire an employee because he or she took time off to appear at his or her child’s school when requested by a teacher after the child has been suspended. This depends on the school requesting the parent’s presence under CA Education Code § 48900.1.58 The parent needs to give the employer appropriate notice.

Taking Time Off to Participate in School Activities of a Child in Kindergarten or Grades 1-12

It is against CA’s employment law to fire an employee because she took time off of work to participate in school activities of their child who is in kindergarten or grades 1-12.59 However, there are limits to this:

  • The employer must employ 25 or more people at your worksite.
  • You can only take up to 40 hours off each year, and only eight (8) in any given month.
  • You can only take this time off to find, enroll, or re-enroll your child in a school or with a licensed child care provider, or to participate in activities of the school or licensed child care provider of his or her child, or to address a child care provider or school emergency.
  • The employee shall utilize existing vacation, personal leave, or compensatory time off for purposes of the planned absence. An employee also may utilize time off without pay for this purpose, to the extent made available by his or her employer.60

Health Care Workers Who Complain About Patient Safety

California wants individuals who work at health care organizations to feel free to complain about issues they witness that concern patient safety. That is why it is unlawful for an employer to fire an employee who complaints about patient safety.61

The great thing about this law is it even starts off by saying, “[I]t is the public policy of the State of California to encourage patients, nurses, members of the medical staff, and other health care workers…” to voice their concerns about patient safety.62 If the employer terminates them for making any such complaints, they can sue for wrongful termination.

Doctors Who Advocate for Medically Appropriate Health Care for a Patient

California wants doctors to be free to practice medicine without fear of retaliation. That is why it is unlawful for an employer to fire a physician-employee for advocating for medically appropriate health care for a patient.63 Now, this applies to doctors who advocate for appropriate healthcare consistent with the degree of learning and skill ordinarily possessed by reputable physicians in the field.64

Wage Garnishment or a Threat of Wage Garnishment

It is unlawful for a company to fire an employee because his or her wages are being garnished or under threat of garnishment.65

Testifying in Federal Court 

Companies may not “injure” an employee witness “in his person or property” for testifying in court.66 This statute has a cool name – “Conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.” This is a statute that applies to federal subpoenas. This means at-will employees are protected for responding to a federal subpoena.67

An Arrest that Did Not Lead to a Conviction 

This law is meant to prohibit employers from asking about arrests that did not result in a criminal conviction. If an employer finds out and uses an arrest that did not result in a criminal conviction to terminate the employee, he or she may sue for wrongful termination.68 There are several exceptions to this law. For example, employers may ask about possible misconduct and the arrest, so long as the arrest alone is not used for disciplinary purposes.69

Filed for Bankruptcy

Companies are not allowed to fire an employee solely because the employee has filed for bankruptcy or has filed for bankruptcy in the past.70 However, there is a specific case that says you are not protected if you are fired simply because you intend to file for bankruptcy.71 Obviously, the lesson learned here is that the best course of action is to not tell anyone at work that you are bankrupt….

Union Membership

Companies across the country are not allowed to discharge or discipline employees for being a union member or participating in union activity (or for exercising any other right afforded by the National Labor Relations Act).72 However, jurisdiction is reserved by the NLRB, so you usually would not sue in a private lawsuit under California employment law.

Interfering with ERISA Rights 

ERISA is a complicated area of law regarding retirement benefits, disability insurance benefits, health benefits, and more. Basically, companies are not allowed to fire someone to prevent them from obtaining any benefit in which they may become entitled under the specific ERISA plan.73

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Sub-Chapter 3.2 – Unlawful Discrimination

One of the most common wrongful termination cases we hear about involves some type of discrimination. It is against California wrongful termination law to fire an employee because of a characteristic protected by law. California’s protected characteristics can all be found below.

These characteristics can be found in California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act.74 This law prohibits employers (who have five or more employees) from terminating employees because of any of the above characteristics. Moreover, employers are not allowed to create a working environment in which members of these protected classes are excluded from important aspects of the job or automatically put at a disadvantage.75

When an employment lawyer like Branigan Robertson files a discrimination case, he usually also brings a wrongful termination claim. Sometimes, the discrimination claim and wrongful termination claim almost mirror each other. Mr. Robertson brings both claims because discrimination claims afford the recovery of attorney’s fees as well as the damages we outline below.

As we briefly mentioned in the retaliation section above, it is against the law for a company to “discharge, expel, or otherwise discriminate” against any person because he or she opposed discriminatory or harassing practices forbidden under CA’s anti-discrimination law.76 Likewise, it is against the law to fire an employee because he or she has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding relating to a discrimination or harassment case filed under the Fair Employment & Housing Act.77

Physical Disability, Mental Disability, Medical Condition & Genetic Information

It is against the law for a company to fire an employee due to a disability if the employee can perform the essential functions of the job. Moreover, if the employee cannot perform the essential functions of the job, but they can with a reasonable accommodation by the employer, the company may not terminate the employee.78

Moreover, if the employer knows you have a disability, they may be required to engage in an interactive process to find a reasonable accommodation for you. If you want to know more about the subject of disabilities and employment law, we have a lot more information on our disability discrimination page.

Race, Color, National Origin, & Ancestry

Everybody knows it’s against the law to terminate someone because of their race. But the laws in California go much deeper than just “race.” It is against the law for an employer to terminate an individual because of their race, color, national origin, or ancestry.79 These characteristics largely revolve around where someone is from, how they look, or how they talk. We have a lot more information on our race discrimination page.

Age

It is unlawful for employers to terminate an employee because he or she is “too old.” This law applies to people over the age of forty (40). The California Fair Employment & Housing Act, as well as the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act are very clear that age is not to be used as a determining factor.80

The use of salary as the basis for differentiating between older and younger employees when terminating employment may be found to constitute age discrimination if use of that criterion adversely impacts older workers as a group.81 If you want more information about this topic, visit our age discrimination page.

Religion

It may constitute wrongful termination if your employer fires you because of your religious practices.82

In many cases, if your religious beliefs conflict with your job duties, the employer may be required to reasonably accommodate you by changing or altering your job slightly to conform to your religious practices. 

However, if your accommodation creates an undue hardship on the employer, they do not have to accommodate you.83 For more information about religious discrimination, visit this page here.

Sex, Gender, Gender Identity & Gender Expression

According to CA’s legal definition, “sex” includes gender, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or medical conditions related to those things.84 The law says it is wrongful to discharge a woman simply because she is female or because of her pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or medical conditions relating to those things.85

“Gender expression” means a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.86

Military or Veteran Status

It is unlawful to terminate an employee because of military service.87 CA employment law defines “Military and veteran status” to mean:

“a member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces Reserve, the United States National Guard, and the California National Guard.”88

Sexual Orientation

It is unlawful for a company to fire you because of your sexual orientation.89 This applies to individuals who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.90

Marital Status

It is unlawful for your employer to fire you because of your marital status.91 This includes whether you are married, unmarried, divorced, separated, widowed, getting an annulment, or some other marital state.92

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Sub-Chapter 3.3 – Violation of Leave of Absence Rights 

California law grants employees (in many situations) the right to take a protected leave of absence from work. If protected, the employee can leave the job for a few weeks or months and the employer is required to allow them to return to work. 

The most common example of this is maternity leave. When a woman has a child, she can take a leave of absence (usually 12 weeks) and her employer is required to allow her to return to work at the end of this period. This leave of absence is unpaid (however the State of California does pay a portion of her paycheck in the form of disability benefits) and she is not required to perform any job duties during her time away from work.

Obviously, from the employer’s perspective, having a valued employee absent from the jobsite for several months can inconvenience and disrupt the business. Some unscrupulous employers choose to fire the pregnant or disabled worker and hire someone else to avoid dealing with that disruption. However, if all the legal boxes are checked, this is a violation of law and considered wrongful termination.

Below is a list of the types of leave of absences that can trigger a wrongful termination lawsuit if your employer fires you.

Family Medical Leave Act & California Family Rights Act

Employers may not terminate an employee for exercising his or her rights (meaning taking a leave of absence) under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA).93 The same applies to employees taking a leave of absence under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).94

In a nutshell, if you properly notify your employer that you are taking a leave of absence for any of the reasons protected by either of these two laws, and you’re fired because of it, you can file suit for wrongful termination.

What types of leave of absence does FMLA & CFRA protect?

  • Leave because the employee is going to give birth to a child.
  • Leave to care for the serious health condition of a child of the employee.
  • Leave to care for a parent or a spouse who has a serious health condition.
  • Leave because of the employee’s own serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.

If you want to know more about FMLA or CFRA, click here.

Jury Duty, To Serve as a Witness in Court, Domestic Violence

Jury duty is a requirement. Therefore, California makes it a requirement for employers to let you take that time off from your job (while your job stays protected).95 But the law also says that if you’re going to appear in Court as a witness, or to file for relief from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, your job is also protected.96

In addition to this, your employer cannot fire you because you are the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.97

Attend Judicial Proceedings

If you were the victim of a crime, or an immediate family member was the victim of a crime, and you need to take time off to attend judicial proceedings related to it, your job is protected by law.98 If your employer fires you for taking that time off, you can sue for wrongful termination.

Military Duty or Training

Your employer cannot terminate you for taking time off for military duty or training.99

Emergency Duty as a Volunteer Firefighter, Reserve Police Officer, or Emergency Rescue

Your employer cannot terminate you taking a leave of absence to perform “emergency duty as a volunteer firefighter or reserve police officer or emergency rescue personnel.”100

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Sub-Chapter 3.4 – Breach of Contract 

As we stated in the overview, there are several straightforward contractual exceptions to the at-will doctrine. 

  1. Public sector employees are usually protected by specific civil-service laws or a union that addresses discipline, termination, and related issues.
  2. Most union employees have a “just cause” provision in their collective bargaining agreement that prohibits termination unless the employer has a good reason.101
  3. Executive employees who have a written employment contract for longer than one month. Also, many executives have a “good cause” provision in their contract. 

If one of these individuals is terminated in violation of their contract, they can file a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Beyond these three, is promissory estoppel.

Promissory Estoppel 

Even though you are an at-will employee, the employer cannot disregard basic human decency and respect. For example, if you get a job offer and have to move from San Diego to San Francisco to take the job, but your employer fires you on your first day (before you’ve had a chance to perform any duties), you may have a claim for promissory estoppel. This means that you relied to your detriment on the promise of the employer. We also call this area of law fraudulent inducement. Mr. Robertson has an entire page on fraudulent inducement and false promises here.

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Sub-Chapter 3.5 – Violations of Public Policy 

It is against the law to fire someone in the State of California for one of the below reasons. These reasons have been found by various court decisions to violate fundamental public policy. 

Before we get into the list, it’s worth nothing two things:

First, an actual violation of law is not required. According to one CA Supreme Court case, “It suffices if the employer fired him for reporting his ‘reasonably based suspicions’ of illegal activity.”102

Second, actual reporting of the violation is not required.An employee who did not in fact report the violations of law by the employer, but who the employer believed to be a whistleblower, can state a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.103

If you get fired for one of the below reasons, contact a lawyer to see if a wrongful termination lawsuit is a good idea.

Firing an Employee to Avoid Paying Commissions

Discharging an employee in order to avoid paying commissions, vacation pay, and other money that the employee is owed violates fundamental public policy of this California and may be actionable in a wrongful termination lawsuit.104

Firing an Employee for Refusing to Sign an Unlawful Non-Compete Provision

For the most part, it’s against the law in California to have a non-compete provision in an employment agreement. But we still see them all the time. If your employer fires you for refusing to sign an employment agreement that contains illegal provision in it would constitute a violation of public policy. The most common example is refusing to sign a contract that contains an unlawful non-compete provision.105

Similarly, if an employer fires an employee because the employee signed a non-compete agreement with his or her former employer, the employee can sue for wrongful termination. That kind of firing violates the public policy favoring open competition and employee mobility identified the Business & Professions Code.106

Firing an Employee to Who Refuses to Violate Certain Regulations

In this case, a private school employee sued because she was terminated for refusing to violate an administrative regulation limiting minimum teacher-student ratios. According to the Court, these regulations embodied a substantial public policy to protect the safety and ensure the educational development of children by ensuring they are adequately supervised.107

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Firing a Lawyer Who Refuses to Violate the Rules of Professional Responsibility

In-house attorneys who are fired for refusing to violate the Rules of Professional Responsibility (these are mandatory ethical obligations that apply to all lawyers in California) can sue for wrongful termination.108

Firing Employees Who Complain their Employer Was Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

In this case, the employees in question (husband and wife) were fired for reporting to the Immigration & Naturalization Service that their employer was hiring undocumented workers in violation of Federal immigration laws.109

Firing Employee Who Refused to Sign a Document Releasing the Employer from Liability for Future Fraud and Intentional Acts

California law does not permit contracts that attempt to exempt a part from his or her own fraud or willful injury to another person.110 If an employer requires its employees sign a document releasing the employer from liability for future fraud and intentional acts, they can be sued for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.111

Firing a Nurse Because She Refused to Perform the Unlawful Practice of Medicine

A nurse was permitted to sue for wrongful termination after she refused to perform a cardiac stress test based on her belief the test was the unlawful practice of medicine in violation of the Nursing Practice Act and rules put forth by the Board of Registered Nursing and Medical Board.112 The statute and guidelines are part of a body of laws that govern the practice of medicine and nursing, which is designed to protect the general public from unsafe medical practices.

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Chapter 4 – Constructive Discharge (Where the Employee was Forced to Quit)

While it might seem obvious, to win your wrongful termination case, you need to have been terminated. But real life is not always this simple. A lot of people who call our office just quit their job, they were not fired. Can they still sue? In rare situations, an employee who voluntarily quits their job, can still sue for wrongful termination. They can do this if their attorney can prove they were constructively terminated.

What does “constructive termination” mean? A constructive discharge occurs when an employer engages in conduct that forces the employee to resign.113 Effectively, the Court pretends that the employment relationship is actually severed by the employer’s acts against the employee’s will. As a result, a “constructive discharge” is legally regarded as a termination or firing by the employer rather than a voluntary resignation.114

Why is it so important to establish that the employee was fired or constructively fired? Simply put, wrongful termination law requires a termination. If a termination or constructive termination has not occurred, a jury cannot award certain types of monetary damages to the employee.

The legal test of constructive termination is pretty strict:

“To establish a constructive discharge claim, an employee must prove by a preponderance of the evidence “that the employer either intentionally created or knowingly permitted working conditions that were so intolerable or aggravated at the time of the employee’s resignation that a reasonable employer would realize that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would be compelled to resign.” (emphasis added)115

To be honest, good wrongful termination lawyers like Branigan Robertson rarely pursue constructive termination claims. Judges hate them. You would have to convince a Judge (who has adjudicated hundreds of wrongful termination claims during his/her tenure) that your working conditions are unusually aggravated or amount to a continuous pattern of objectionable conduct. Constructive discharge requires a greater degree of harassment than required by a hostile work environment claim.116

This is very difficult to do and you may find it very difficult to find a wrongful lawyer to take a constructive discharge case on a contingency fee basis.

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Chapter 5 – The Monetary Value of Wrongful Termination Cases

Wrongful termination cases can settle for millions of dollars. But the vast majority settle for much less than that.

What will your case settle for? Well, that depends. To explain, Mr. Robertson has made an entire video directly addressing this question. I promise that you’ll find this video to be enlightening.

If you would prefer to watch this video on YouTube, click here.

Generally, if you successfully prevail in your termination lawsuit, you may be entitled to recover the following types of damages:

  1. Lost wages
  2. Pain & Suffering Damages
  3. Punitive Damages
  4. Case Costs
  5. Attorney’s Fees (This only applies when certain types of claims like discrimination or harassment overlap your wrongful termination claim)

If you want to learn about how much you might win, and how lawyers value wrongful termination cases, watch the above video. It answers questions like:

  • How do lawyers value wrongful termination cases?
  • What kind of damages can I receive?
  • Can I get punitive damages?

The reason why employment lawyers cannot predict the value of your case up front with any certainty is because every case is drastically different. There are so many variables that affect case value that it’s impossible to process through all of them without litigating the case and discovering all the important facts.

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Chapter 6 – The Stages of a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

Wrongful termination lawsuits generally follow the nine steps we’ve outlined below. With that said, not two cases travel the same path! Each and every case is drastically different so it is wise to expect the unexpected. 

For example, in some circumstances it is likely that your case can settle before the case is even filed in Court. In other cases, it would take a miracle to settle the case without a trial. It all depends on the case and the people involved.

You may be asking yourself, “How long will my case last?” The best answer for that is, “Probably a long time.” Some cases resolve within a few months, but that is rare. It is more likely that your case will take longer than a year. The best way to get an estimate for your case is to hire a lawyer and get his or her estimate.

One last note before we explore the stages of the lawsuit. Branigan has made an entire video on the stages of a wrongful termination case. If you’re tired of reading, this video is an awesome way to learn about what you will experience during each step of the lawsuit.

If you would prefer to watch this video on YouTube, click here.

Okay, on to the nine stages of a wrongful termination lawsuit:

  1. Consultation with Attorney & Hiring

After your termination, the first thing you should do is to consult with a wrongful termination lawyer like Branigan Robertson. Do not wait. Evidence will get stale, memories will fade, and it is not good to sit in the anger and resentment that builds from a wrongful termination. The best course of action is to take action. Do not let yourself be a victim. 

During this initial consultation stage, you get to tell your complete story to the law office. If the lawyer decides that you have a case that is worth pursuing, and you like and trust the attorney, you and the lawyer will enter into an attorney-client fee agreement that outlines his or her scope of work.

After you hire the attorney, he or she will collect all relevant documents from you, describe the path forward, and begin preparing the lawsuit.

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  • The Lawsuit is Filed & Served

The first official stage of a wrongful termination lawsuit is your lawyer will file your case in court. Your lawyer will draft a “complaint,” which is a legal document that briefly describes the facts of your case, the laws that were broken, and the damages you seek to recover. Once this happens, you become the “Plaintiff.” This is the legal term for the person who is initiating the lawsuit.

Your lawyer will then serve your Complaint on the employer (who becomes the “Defendant”). While they will officially have around thirty days to file a response to your Complaint, your lawyer will probably permit them to take more time to prepare a response. Lawyers frequently grant the opposing side “extensions” of time like this as a professional courtesy. 

Your involvement in this stage of the case simply consists of answering your lawyer’s questions. 

  • Early Motions to Dismiss the Case

In most cases, the Defendant (employer) will file a motion to either dismiss your case entirely or attempt to dismiss parts of your case. These motions have weird names like “demurrer” and “motions to strike.” If your lawyer has done his or her job properly by drafting a proper complaint, these motions usually fail. Your involvement in this process is extremely minimal. You will not be attending any of these court hearings.

  • Written Discovery

Written discovery is the stage where your lawyer and the defense lawyers share documents and information. The documents can be emails, write-ups, performance reviews, text messages, social media posts, company handbooks, company policies, and anything else that is relevant to your wrongful termination case. 

Your lawyer will also prepare interrogatories (written questions) and send them to the defense lawyers. The company’s lawyers will do the same. These questions must be answered in writing and you will have to review and sign the answers.

This is an intensive process but you will only be a part of about 10% of it. The lawyers do all the heavy lifting. Your job will be to review the documents your lawyers send you and provide feedback and signatures where required.

  • Depositions

Depositions are extremely important. Depositions are oral testimony. The person who is being “deposed” will be asked questions, under oath, and their answers can be used against them at trial if they lie or exaggerate. 

Your deposition will probably occur in a conference room at the defendant’s lawyer’s office. In the conference room will be your lawyer, the company’s lawyer, a court reporter (his/her job is to simply record everything in writing), and might include other individuals. 

During your deposition, the company’s lawyer will get to ask you questions while your lawyer defends you. This seems like an intimidating process, but it’s usually fairly straightforward. Most lawyers are fairly matter of fact and respectful. All you have to do is answer questions directly, tell the truth, and follow your attorney’s lead.

Your attorney will also depose people at the company. These depositions will occur on a different day. This will include people who have knowledge regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding your case. This could include the person who fired you, people who know about your job performance, human resources, etc. You may be asked to attend these depositions, or your lawyer may prefer to not have you there. 

  • Motion for Summary Judgment

A motion for summary judgment in a wrongful termination case sounds scary, but you will probably not have much to do with it except for reviewing and signing some paperwork. It will require weeks of work for your lawyer, but it won’t affect you much.

Basically, in this motion, the company is asking the Court to throw out the case or parts of the case. They are arguing that there are no issues that can be put to a jury, and thus the case should be dismissed. 


This is a serious motion, but it isn’t granted in very many legitimate wrongful termination cases. If you have a good case and a good lawyer, you will prevail on this motion 90-95% of the time. However, if you have a bad case or a bad lawyer, the odds of you losing go up.

  • Settlement: Mediation & Mandatory Settlement Conferences

Between 95-98% of wrongful termination cases settle before or during trial. Your case will probably settle at mediation or at a mandatory settlement conference. 

Mediation is where most employment cases settle. “Mediation” is an all-day-long event where you and your attorney try to settle the case with a mediator. A mediator is a former judge or current attorney who is extremely good at getting people to compromise. The mediator will meet with you and your lawyer and explain your case’s strengths and weaknesses. He or she will then go into a different conference room and do the same with the company and their lawyer.

Mediation can be contentious as your lawyer may argue with the mediator about facts and positions. After the facts have been contested, money will be discussed. The parties may go back and forth. If an impasse is reached, the mediator may make a “mediator’s proposal.” This is the mediator’s best guess as to the amount both parties may agree to.

If the parties agree, then the case settles. If not, then the case continues toward trial.

Mandatory Settlement Conferences, on the other hand, are usually supervised by the Court. You and your lawyer will go to Court on a designated day. So will the company and their lawyer. The judge, or someone appointed by the judge, will try to mediate the case in an expedited fashion. In today’s litigation environment, some cases settle at the MSC, but it is more common that they settle at private mediation.

Even though most cases settle at mediation after some discovery has been done, in certain cases the parties make an attempt to settle early. This can sometimes even occur before the case is filed in court. There are no restrictions on settlement, it can happen at any time during the life of the case.

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  • Trial

If the parties fail to settle, then your wrongful termination case will proceed to trial. Trial is a stressful process where the two sides present their case to the jury. If the case is a “bench trial,” the parties will present their case to a judge. Trial in wrongful termination cases can sometimes last several weeks.

When the parties finish presenting their case, they will give closing arguments to the jury. After closing arguments, the Judge will give the jury instructions. Then the jury will retire to a closed room to deliberate and decide who wins and who loses.

  • Appeal

An appeal occurs when one party believes a significant error has occurred at the trial level and needs to be rectified by the court system. Appeals can take over a year and extend the life of the case dramatically. 

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Chapter 7 – Limitations and Drawbacks of Wrongful Termination Cases

When wrongful termination is the only claim in the case (or the only one with any teeth) your lawsuit will have some limitations.First of all, you cannot sue a public entity employer for wrongful termination. This includes city, state, and federal public entities. According to CA’s government code, because a public entity is only liable for its acts or omissions if a statute specifically states as much117, a wrongful termination claim generally does not lie against a public entity (as wrongful termination is a claim created by case law, not statute).118

Fortunately, when someone has a good wrongful termination case, their claim will likely overlap with an area of law that you can bring against a government entity (like discrimination or harassment).

Second, if you are exclusively suing for wrongful termination, you cannot recover attorney’s fees on top of your compensatory damages. However, just like above, if your claim overlaps with another area of employment law that does permit the recovery of attorney’s fees, you may be able to recover them.

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Chapter 8 – What Steps Should You Take Immediately After Being Fired

First, don’t panic. A wrongful termination is usually not a total surprise. Most of our clients had some sense that it could happen before it actually did. I always tell people to not react negatively. Don’t send a snarky email, don’t berate the person firing you, don’t tell them that you’re suing, don’t be rude, don’t say anything. 

Second, don’t sign anything that could hurt your case. If the company slides a “Severance Agreement,” “Separation Agreement,” “Settlement Agreement,” or anything that asks you to sign something for money, don’t sign it! You do not have to sign something right away! More often than not, the law requires the company to give you some time to review separation agreements. Tell them that you’re going to review the documents tomorrow morning and want to talk to your family. Then, take the agreement home and call a lawyer.

On the other hand, you don’t need to refuse to sign everything. If the company asks you to sign a document that you’ve returned the company laptop, and you’ve done so, then review the document and sign it if it is innocuous.

Third, organize the documents that you have. If you have the company handbook in your closet, go pull it out. If you printed out emails that you thought would help you in case you got fired, organize them in sequential order. Gather your paystubs, hiring agreement (if any), and any other relevant documents and put them in a safe place.

Fourth, call a wrongful termination lawyer like Branigan Robertson for a free consultation. You will get a chance to tell your story to a staff member, who will then present the facts to the attorney. If your case seems promising, the law firm will probably schedule a time for you to speak with the attorney over the phone or meet in person at the office. The attorney will then discuss your options.

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Chapter 9 – What Should You Tell a Lawyer When You Describe Your Case

If you decide to call a lawyer to tell your story, here are some tips to make that process as smooth and efficient as possible.

  1. Let the Lawyer Take the Lead – Good employment lawyers have handled a lot of wrongful termination cases. They can quickly get to the heart of the matter if you let the lawyer take charge. With that said, good lawyers always give their clients time to tell their story. Our office asks some important questions up front. After that, we always give potential clients the time they need to tell their story. If you seem to be getting off track, we will re-direct you if you are clearly going down a path that is not relevant to your case. Unfortunately, the demands on an attorney’s time are immense, and it is important that potential clients respect that.
  2. You Will Be Asked Personal Questions – Answer them directly and don’t be embarrassed. Your consultation is confidential and it is important that you are honest with your lawyer. He/she is not interested in personal details unless they are important to your case.
  3. You Will Have to Tell the Lawyer the Basics – The basics include the name of your former employer, how long you worked there, your job title, your salary, how many employees worked there, if you signed an arbitration agreement, your phone number, your email address, and the basic facts of your case. Please have this information ready when you are first talking to a wrongful termination attorney or a staff member from his or her office.
  4. Keep Your Story Concise – We know that there is a lot of information that you want to tell us, but the initial consultation is not time for an exhaustive review of every little fact (that comes later). The consultation process is time for the legal team to get an overview of the facts and circumstances surrounding your termination. We are looking for the 10,000ft view of the case, not every gritty detail. If the attorney needs more specific information he or she will ask for it.
  5. Don’t Generalize and Don’t be Conclusive – It its extremely frustrating when potential clients call a lawyer and say, “My manager broke the law when he fired me,” or “That’s a hostile work environment!” or “The law says that I’m entitled to…” Don’t you think you should let the lawyer you’re calling decide if the law was broken or not??? We are the ones who have the experience and training to know when a law was broken and what you may be entitled too. 
  6. Don’t Ever Be Rude – If you call Branigan’s office and you are rude to anyone on his team, he will not take your case even if it’s worth five million dollars. The reality is, when people are rude to members of our team, they were probably rude at work. We don’t take clients who do not appreciate our time, attention, or services.

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Chapter 10 – What Do Attorneys Charge in Wrongful Termination Cases?

How much do lawyers charge to represent employees in wrongful termination cases? Fair question. In most cases, wrongful termination lawyers like Mr. Robertson represent their clients on a contingency fee. This means that the lawyer doesn’t get paid anything up front, rather, the attorney gets paid a percentage of the case recovery upon settlement.

This fee structure is ideal for clients who were just wrongfully terminated as they just lost their main source of income! However, in some cases, this fee structure is not possible. When that is the case, attorneys like Mr. Robertson charge by the hour. 

If you would rather watch this video on YouTube, click here.

If you want to know exactly what Mr. Robertson’s fees are, give our office a call for a free consultation. Mr. Robertson charges fees directly in line with the standard in the industry.

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Chapter 11 – What if You’re an Immigrant (Undocumented or Legal)?

What if you’re wrongfully terminated and you’re an undocumented immigrant? What if you’re here legally, but are discriminated against nonetheless? A lot of immigrants are afraid of filing a lawsuit and using the court system because they don’t want to risk their immigration status or deportation. Do immigrants have the ability to file suit for wrongful termination? 

Absolutely.

First, according to California Labor Code § 1171.5(a):

“(a) All protections, rights, and remedies available under state law, except any reinstatement remedy prohibited by federal law, are available to all individuals regardless of immigration status who have applied for employment, or who are or who have been employed, in this state.”119

This means that undocumented immigrants and people here on a visa are absolutely able to pursue a claim for wrongful termination, just like anybody else. Not only that but, during the lawsuit, the employer’s ability to dig into your immigration status is limited. The law says that “no inquiry shall be permitted into a person’s immigration status….”120 On top of that, your former employer is prohibited from reporting or threatening to report your immigration status in retaliation for filing a lawsuit.121

Immigrants can also sue their employer for unfair immigration related practices including:

  • Contacting or threatening to contact immigration authorities.
  • Filing or threatening to file a false police report or a false report or complaint with any State or federal agency like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (“ICE”),
  • Requesting more or different documents that are required by federal immigration laws,
  • Using the federal E-Verify system to check the employment authorization of a person at a time or in a manner not required under federal law, or
  • Refusing to accept such documents when they reasonably appear on their face to be genuine.122

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Chapter 12 – About Branigan Robertson | Employment Lawyer

Branigan Robertson | Employment Lawyer
Branigan Robertson | Wrongful Termination Attorney

Branigan Robertson is an experienced employment lawyer located in Orange County, California. He has successfully represented numerous individuals in wrongful termination claims against employers throughout California. This includes Fortune 500 companies, as well as local companies that have only a few dozen employees.

Mr. Robertson has experience handling complicated termination cases; including cases where he needed to depose individuals as high as CEO, as well as the usual suspects like the person who decided to terminate, human resources, the managers, co-workers, and anyone else who is relevant.

Mr. Robertson keeps his overall case load as low as possible. He does this so he can maximize the amount of time he can dedicate to each client. Mr. Robertson frequently tells people that they can hire the best lawyer on the planet, but if he/she doesn’t have time to work on your case, the ultimate settlement or verdict isn’t going to be good.

As you can tell from reviewing this webpage, Mr. Robertson is methodical in his approach to the law and prides himself on doing an excellent job on his wrongful termination cases.

Where Does Mr. Robertson Take Cases?

Mr. Robertson represents people up and down the State of California. This includes the following:

  • Orange County (Irvine, Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, and more). Mr. Robertson’s office is in Irvine, CA.
  • Los Angeles County (Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Glendale, and more)
  • Inland Empire (Riverside, Temecula, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, and more)
  • San Diego County (Oceanside, Escondido, Chula Vista, and more)
  • Ventura County (Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, Simi Valley, and more)
  • Northern California – Mr. Robertson does travel to take good cases throughout NorCal, including San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Monterey, and more.

To learn more about Mr. Robertson, click here.

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Chapter 13 – Watch Out for These Types of Lawyers

Unfortunately, not all lawyers are created equal. The purpose of this section is to give you some pointers on what to watch out for when you’re looking for a wrongful termination lawyer. 

  • Lawyers who are too busy to dedicate the necessary amount of time to pursue your case properly.

This is a huge problem in the legal industry. There are a lot of great attorneys who are simply too busy to do a good job on any of their client’s cases. If the lawyer you want to represent you will not return your calls or is always cutting you off to go do something else, he or she may be too busy to help you. 

  • Lawyers who will not give you enough time to tell the major parts of your story.

This is an easy red-flag to pick up on during the consultation process. When you are discussing your case with the lawyer, does he or she constantly cut you off or dismiss your concerns? Does the lawyer make grand statements or legal conclusions without knowing all the facts? If so, you should be very careful about signing his or her fee agreement. 

  • Lawyers who promise that you’ll get a certain amount at settlement.

Not even the best lawyers can promise that you’ll get a certain amount of money. They can be confident that you will, but if they promise it, they are playing with fire. We’ve seen great cases settle for very little, and bad cases settle for more than they deserve. Each and every case is different.

  • Hot shot lawyers who will not touch your case until trial. 

Some firms with high-flying partners will delegate your case down to a brand-new associate who doesn’t know how to properly litigate and prepare a case for trial. While not every case goes to trial, every case needs to be prepared for trial. Ask the firm if the attorney that you want will be personally handling discovery and the motion work. If they say no, make sure you are comfortable with the person who will be doing those important things.

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Chapter 14 – Why Can’t You Find a Lawyer to Take Your Case?

There are a lot of people out there who want an attorney to take their wrongful discharge case. Unfortunately, many people (if not most) quickly realize that it is difficult to find a lawyer who is interested in helping them. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Each case requires an enormous time investment – Your case may require hundreds (if not thousands) of hours to pursue correctly. Due to the amount of time your case may take, there are simply not enough hours in the day to help the number of people who want help. Therefore, some lawyers simply stop accepting cases when their case load becomes too high. Furthermore, an attorney can never predict exactly how long a case will take simply because we cannot control what the company or its lawyers will do. They may refuse to ever make a reasonable settlement offer. In that case, your lawyer will have to take the case all the way through trial. 
  2. Your case may be weak legally – What this means is that the attorneys who are reviewing your case may believe that it’s going to be difficult to win because the facts don’t comport with the law. There is a significant difference between things that are unfair and things that are against the law. While you may feel your termination is unfair, the attorney is concerned with whether or not the law was broken. If it looks like it wasn’t, you’re going to have a hard time finding a lawyer who is willing to take your case on a contingency.
  3. Your case may be difficult to prove – In many cases, attorney’s like Mr. Robertson sincerely believe that the law was broken, but we know that the case will be impossible to prove. Litigation is a chess game, but if you don’t have any pieces to put on the board because you can prove anything, you’re going to lose every time.
  4. Your case may have small damages – Since each case requires an enormous time investment on behalf of the lawyer and his or her staff, if your case isn’t large enough economically, then it’s not practical for a lawyer to represent you via a contingency fee. All law offices need to pay their employees, pay insurance, pay rent, and keep the lights on. Your case may be worthy, but if it’s not economical, we’re sorry but we can’t help you.
  5. The lawyer may not believe you – Unfortunately, all lawyers have been lied to by clients and potential clients. It costs our law firm thousands upon thousands of dollars when a client tellsus things that are not true and we pursue a claim based on incorrect information. We have learned to watch out for people who embellish, exaggerate, or straight-up lie. 
  6. You may have been rude to the support staff – It is always a huge red flag when potential clients are rude to our support staff. We find it downright two-faced when someone is rude to our intake team but sweet as pie when they speak with the lawyer. This is a sign that the person is not worthy of being our client.

We wish we could help everyone who called our office. But that isn’t possible. Due to the sheer number of people who contact our firm, we have to pick and choose the clients and cases that make the most sense for our firm.

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Chapter 15 – What is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Termination Case?

A statute of limitations is a time limit. If you don’t hire a lawyer and file your case within the time limit, you cannot pursue your case! So, obviously, you need to know what your time limit is for a wrongful termination case.

In California, the statute of limitations for a wrongful termination case is two years.123 However, Mr. Robertson does not recommend waiting to pursue your case. You may have other claims (such as discrimination or harassment claims) that have much shorter deadlines.

The time to file suit begins at the time the employee was fired—i.e., at the time of actual termination rather than an earlier date (such as when the employee is just notified of her termination).124

So, if you think you have a case, don’t wait! Call a lawyer like Mr. Robertson for a free consultation.

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Footnotes:

  1. Tamney v. Atlantic Richfield, Co. (1980) 27 C3d 167, 172
  2. CA Labor Code § 2922
  3. Gantt v. Sentry Ins. (1922) 1 C4th 1083, pg. 1094
  4. Gantt v. Sentry Ins. (1922) 1 C4th 1083, pg. 1090-1091
  5. Petermann v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1959) 174 Cal. App.2d 184 [employee terminated for refusing to perjure himself before state legislative committee]
  6. Nees v. Hocks (1975) 272 Ore. 210 [536 P.2d 512] [performing jury duty]
  7. Wetherton v. Growers Farm Labor Assn. (1969) 275 Cal. App.2d 168 [79 Cal. Rptr. 543] *1091 [engaging in union activities])
  8. Hentzel v. Singer Co. (1982) 138 Cal. App.3d 290 [188 Cal. Rptr. 159, 35 A.L.R.4th 1015] [reporting unsafe working conditions]
  9. Parker v. Twentieth Centry-Fox Film Corp (1970) 3 C3d 176, 181
  10. Pollard v. El du Pont de Nemours & Co. (2001) 532 US 843
  11. Agarwal v. Johnson (1979) 603 P. 2d 58, 953
  12. State Farm v. Cambell (2003) 538 U.S. 408
  13. California Labor Code § 2922
  14. Haycock v. Hughes Aircraft Co., (1994) 22 Cal. App. 4th1473, 1488-1489
  15. Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal. 4th317, 335-336
  16. Tamney v. Atlantic Richfield, Co. (1980) 27 C3d 167, 172
  17. Pugh v. See’s Candies, Inc. (1981) 116 Cal. App. 3d 311, 320-321
  18. City of Moorpark v. Superior Court (1998) 959 P. 2d 752, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 445, 457
  19. CA Labor Code § 6310
  20. Xin Liu v. Amway Corp. (9thCir. 2003) 347 F3d 1125, 1137-1138
  21. CA Labor Code § 1101 & 1102
  22. CA Labor Code § 98.6
  23. CA Labor Code § 132a
  24. CA Labor Code § 1102.5
  25. Green v. Ralee Engineering Co. (1998) 960 P. 2d 1046
  26. Tamney v. Atlantic Richfield, Co. (1980) 27 C3d 167
  27. CA Labor Code § 432.5D’sa v. Playhut, Inc., (2000) 102 Cal. Rptr. 2d 495
  28. Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (1994) 7 C4th 1238, 1258-1259
  29. Mokler v. County of Orange (2007) 68 Cal. Rptr. 3d 568, 580
  30. CA Labor Code § 6310
  31. Lujan v. Minagar (2004) 124 CA4th 1040, 21 CR3d 861, 865-866
  32. CA Labor Code § 1102.5(b)
  33. CA Labor Code § 1102.5(b)
  34. CA Labor Code § 12940(h)
  35. CA Labor Code § 12940(h)
  36. CA Labor Code § 1101 & 1102
  37. CA Labor Code § 1102.5(b)
  38. CA Labor Code § 1102.5(b)
  39. CA Labor Code § 12650-12656
  40. CA Labor Code § 1102.5(c)
  41. Mize-Kurzman v. Marin Community College Dist. (2012) 202 Cal. App. 4th832, 852-853
  42. CA Labor Code § 232(c)
  43. CA Labor Code § 232(a)-(b)
  44. CA Labor Code § 132a
  45. Dutra v. Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta (2012) 2009 Cal. App. 4th750
  46. 38 USC § 4311
  47. DLSE Wage Adjudication
  48. CA Labor Code § 98.6
  49. Gould v. Maryland Sound Industries, Inc. (1995) 31 Cal. App. 4th1137, 1146-1150
  50. Gould v. Maryland Sound Industries, Inc. (1995) 31 Cal. App. 4th1137, 1146-1150
  51. CA Labor Code § 2699 et seq.CA Labor Code § 98.6(a)
  52. CA Labor Code § 96(k)
  53. Grinzi v. San Diego Hospice Corp (2004) 14 Cal. Rptr. 3d 893
  54. CA Labor Code § 232.5
  55. Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc., (2002) 122 Cal. Rptr. 2d 204
  56. 18 USC § 1514A
  57. CA Labor Code § 1044
  58. CA Labor Code  § 230.7
  59. CA Labor Code § 230.8
  60. CA Labor Code § 230.8(b)
  61. CA Health & Safety Code § 1278.5
  62. CA Health & Safety Code § 1278.5(a)
  63. CA Business & Professions Code § 2056(c)
  64. Wickline v. State of California (1986) 192 Cal.App.3d 1630
  65. CA Labor Code § 2929(b)
  66. 42 USC 1985(2)
  67. Haddle v. Garrison (1998) 525 US 121, 126
  68. CA Labor Code 432.7(a)
  69. Pittman v. City of Oakland (1998) 197 CA3d 1037, 1042-1044
  70. 11 USC 525(b)
  71. In re Majewski (9thCir. 2002) 310 F3d 653
  72. 29 USC § 151-169
  73. 29 USC § 1140
  74. California Fair Employment & Housing Act
  75. Knight v. Hayward Unified School District (2005) 33 Cal.Rptr.3d 287
  76. CA Labor Code § 12940(h)
  77. CA Labor Code § 12940(h)
  78. CA Labor Code § 12940(a)(1), (a)(2), (e), (m)
  79. CA Government Code § 12940(a)
  80. CA Government Code § 12940(a)
  81. CA Government Code § 12941
  82. CA Government Code § 12940(a)
  83. CA Government Code § 12940(l)
  84. CA Government Code § 12926(r)
  85. CA Government Code § 12940(a)
  86. CA Government Code § 12926(r)(2)
  87. CA Government Code § 12940(a)
  88. CA Government Code § 12926(k)
  89. CA Government Code § 12940(a)
  90. CA Government Code § 12926(s)
  91. CA Government Code § 12940(a)
  92. California Code of Regulations § 11053
  93. 29 USC § 2612(a)Xin Liu v. Amway Corp. (9thCir. 2003) 347 F3d 1125, 1132
  94. CA Government Code § 12945.2(l)
  95. CA Labor Code § 230(a)
  96. CA Labor Code § 230(b) & (c)
  97. CA Labor Code § 230(e)
  98. CA Labor Code § 230.5
  99. CA Military & Veterans Code § 394
  100. CA Labor Code § 230.3
  101. Pugh v. See’s Candies, Inc. (1981) 116 Cal. App. 3d 311, 320-321
  102. Green v. Ralee Eng. Co. (1998) 19 C4th 66, 87
  103. Diego v. Pilgrim United Church of Christ (2014) 231 CA4th 913, 923
  104. Gould v. Maryland Sound Industries, Inc. (1995) 31 CA4th 1137, 1148
  105. CA Labor Code § 432.5D’sa v. Playhut, Inc., (2000) 102 Cal. Rptr. 2d 495
  106. CA Business & Professions Code § 16600Silguero v. Creteguard (2010) 187 CA4th 60, 68
  107. Scott v. Phoenix Schools, Inc. (2009) 175 CA4th 702, 709
  108. General Dynamics Corp. v. Sup.Ct. (1994) 7 C4th 1164, 1182
  109. Luo Yu Jie v. Liang Tai Knitwear (2001) 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 682
  110. CA Civil Code § 1668
  111. Baker Pacific Corp. v. Suttles (1990) 220 CA3d 1148, 1156-1157
  112. Nosal-Tabor v. Sharp Chula Vista Med. Center (2015) 239 CA4th 1224, 1238-1239
  113. Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (1994) 7 C4th 1238, 1244-1245
  114. Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (1994) 7 C4th 1238, 1244-1245
  115. Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (1994) 7 C4th at 1251 
  116. Brown v. Kinney Shoe Corp. (5thCir. 2001) 237 F3d 556, 566
  117. CA Government Code § 815(a)
  118. Miklosy v. Regents of Univ. of Calif., 44 CA4th 881, 900-901
  119. CA Labor Code § 1171.5(a)
  120. CA Labor Code § 1171.5(b)
  121. CA Labor Code § 244(b)
  122. CA Labor Code § 1019
  123. CA Code of Civil Procedure § 335.1
  124. Romano v. Rockwell International (1996) 14 C4th 479, 501

2 Responses to Wrongful Termination Law in California – The Ultimate Guide Online

  1. Ashley

    I liked that you said that one thing to consider when you are needing to handle a wrongful termination is to hire an attorney since they know the laws and will be able to complete the process correctly. I have been thinking about hiring an attorney to help the case of an emergency bit I have been worried that I will end up being unsuccessful in finding a quality attorney. I will be sure to do research to find a professional who has good reviews and ratings in order to ensure quality during the case.

  2. Grace Turner

    Thank you for this great guide on wrongful termination. My friend was recently fired and feels that it was not ethical. she’ll have to see if she can get an employment law lawyer to help her.

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