Getting fired from a job is rarely as dramatic as it looks in the movies. It does not always involve your boss yelling at you, and there is not always a walk of shame back to your cubicle to clean out your desk. Your employer often tries to be nice about it, and they rarely use the word “fired.” There are often euphemisms, such as downsizing, restructuring, or redundancy. Sometimes your employer makes excuses and tells you some variation of “it’s not you, it’s me.” It is easy to adopt the mindset that no job lasts forever, and if an employer lets you go, you should just move on and look for another job. When you interview for another job, though, what do you say when the interviewer asks you why you left your previous job? If it was your employer’s decision for you to stop working there, and you think that it was unfair of your employer to terminate your employment, maybe it was. Sometimes it is just bad luck when you lose your job, but sometimes it is employment discrimination or an unfair punishment for doing something that you had the legal right to do, even though your employer was upset about it. If you think that it was unfair of your employer to terminate your employment, contact the Irvine wrongful termination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Is it True That Your Employer Can Fire You for No Reason?
In some cases, it is legal for your employer to fire you even when you have been doing your job well and have not engaged in any misconduct. Like many other states, California is an at-will employment state. At-will employment means that, unless you have signed an employment contract that guarantees you employment for a certain length of time or until a certain date, you have the right to quit your job at any time and for any reason, and your employer has the right to fire you at any time and for any reason. (Giving two weeks’ notice when you quit a job is polite, but it is not a legal requirement.) Your employer should notify you that your employment is on an at-will basis; this notice might be in your hiring paperwork, or it might be in the employee handbook.
When is it Wrongful Termination of Employment?
Whether you are employed under a contract or on an at-will basis, there are certain reasons and circumstances where it is against the law for an employer to fire you. Specifically, your employer cannot terminate your employment based on a protected characteristic of yours, such as your race, gender, age, religion, or disability. For example, if your employer fires you because of interruptions related to childcare, such as your preteen children frequently texting you at work, you could argue that this is discrimination based on family status.
Likewise, even if you are employed on an at-will basis, it is wrongful termination of employment if your employer fires you in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity. These are some examples of protected activities:
- Filing a complaint about discrimination or harassment in your workplace
- Filing a whistleblower claim or reporting misconduct
- Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability
- Missing up to 24 hours of work in a year to attend children’s school events or transport family members to medical appointments, pursuant to the California Small Necessities Act
- Requesting an unpaid family or medical leave, pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim after a work injury or after being diagnosed with an occupational disease
- Reporting a safety violation in your workplace to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
It could still be a case of wrongful termination if your employer gives you a flimsy excuse for why they are terminating your employment, but you got the news that you were getting fired shortly after you engaged in a protected action.
Separation Agreements and Wrongful Termination Disputes
A separation agreement is an agreement that the employer asks an employee to sign after the employer makes the decision to terminate the employee’s job. By signing a separation agreement, the employee waives the right to sue the employer for wrongful termination of employment. In order to persuade employees to sign separation agreements, employers sometimes offer severance packages as one of the provisions of the separation agreement. The severance package usually includes enough money to replace several months of the employee’s salary; some employers pay out the severance money in a lump sum, and some pay it out in installments. The severance package might also involve the employer continuing to provide health insurance coverage for the employee for a certain period after the term of employment ends.
If you have reason to believe that your employer’s reason for terminating your employment is not simply “stuff happens, and the economy is sluggish,” as your employer claimed, then you should not sign the separation agreement. Instead, first talk to a lawyer and see if there is compelling evidence that the termination of your employment constitutes employment discrimination or if it was retaliation for a protected action that you took. It is never a good sign if your employer gives you a very short deadline to sign the separation agreement, much as you should not marry someone who surprises you with a prenup on the day before your wedding. Before you sign any separation agreement with your employer, you should review the agreement with a wrongful termination lawyer. Your lawyer can help you decide whether it is worthwhile to pursue a wrongful termination claim.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Wrongful Termination of Employment in Irvine
HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you decide whether to pursue a wrongful termination of employment claim, even if your employer offered you a separation agreement at the end of your term of employment. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Irvine, California to set up a consultation.