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Do you have a legal case against your employer if you think you were let go for unfair or unlawful reasons? Well, it depends. In California and the other states in the USA, employment is on an “at-will” basis. That means your employer can terminate your job at any time and for any reason, and you too can leave your job at any time for any reason. Neither of you has to issue the other a notice. It is all perfectly legal.
There are some exceptions to the “at-will” employment rule, however, and, if you want to take legal action against your employer, you will need to find out if your situation comes under those. Depending on your ability to prove unfair or unlawful activity on the part of your employer, you may be able to file a case for unfair dismissal or unlawful termination. Unless you are well-versed with the fine nuances of employment law, it is advisable to contact an experienced unlawful termination attorney and have them evaluate your case.
What is the difference between unfair dismissal and unlawful termination?
Unfair dismissal and unlawful termination are similar terms that are used to refer to the illegal firing of an employee by an employer. That can happen when the employer breaches a written or implied contract with the employee or violates public policy, federal law, or state law.
A written contract is a formal work agreement that contains the specific terms and conditions of your employment with the company. It will underline the employer’s expectations from you and the procedure they will follow if they wish to terminate your employment. Some employers may not have a written contract but may have an implied contract in the form of an employee handbook. As with the written contract, the employee handbook will state your duties as an employee and list the specific reasons that might cause the employer to fire you.
When can you have a case for unfair dismissal or unlawful termination?
You may have a case for unfair dismissal or unlawful termination if the employer disregards the terms of the contract or the employee handbook and fires you without prior notice, without proper justification, or without following the prescribed procedure for dismissal.
The employer will be violating public policy if they fire you for refusing to help them do something illegal, or because you acted as a whistleblower and exposed their illegal activity. California’s Labor Code 1102.5 LC, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and the “qui tam” section of the California False Claims Act protect whistleblowers from retaliation by their current or former employers.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits your employer from retaliating against you for protesting workplace discrimination or harassment, for filing a complaint to oppose these, and for working with investigators or lawyers to prove these. As per the California labor law, your employer can also not fire you for engaging in political activism.
As per California’s WARN (Worker Retraining and Notification) Act, if an employer with 75 or more employees has to lay off 50 or more employees, they are legally obliged to provide them with 60 days advance notice. If they fail to do so, you can sue them for the pay and benefits you would have normally obtained in those 60 days.
When can you sue for unfair dismissal or unlawful termination?
The statute for unlawful termination arising from breach of written or implied contract and violation of public policy is two years from the day you were dismissed from your job. Under the labor code 1102.5, you must file your lawsuit within three years, and, under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, it is within 180 days and you must file with the US Department of Labor.
Under FEHA, the time frame for filing with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is three years. It is also three years under WARN.
What damages can you expect to win from unfair dismissal or unlawful termination lawsuit?
Depending on how strong your case is, you may be able to get damages for lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, damages for emotional distress, and the legal fees of the unlawful termination attorney representing you.