Public policy encompasses the basic principle that any injury to a public right, good or resource can serve as the legal reason for denying the legal validity of a contract or agreement. Here in Los Angeles, there are quite a few public policies with regards to the employment relationship and the rights of workers. Under the California Fair Housing and Unemployment Act (FEHA), employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace based on age, race, religion, gender, sex, physical and mental disabilities and pregnancy. Some of the most common public policies raised in wrongful termination disputes in LA include:
- At-will Employment: In California it is presumed that all employment relationships are at will, meaning that both the employer and employee can cancel the relationship at any time. However, when an employer violates public policy this presumption is questioned. This is in order to protect employees from coercion against employers who could use the threat of imminent and abrupt termination to their advantage.
- Right to Freely Contract: The ability of a worker to freely contract to work for the employer of their choosing is often raised in the context of wrongful termination suits. This occurs when the underlying contract violates this right, through the use of non-compete agreements, or when the employee is terminated because of a refusal to sign a contract that is unfavorable.
- Freedom of Speech: The right to freely speak and express one’s opinions has been utilized in cases where employees were terminated for expressing their views about their employers, as well as about the benefits, compensation and other conditions of their employment.
- Freedom of Association: The right to freely associate ie. meet and communicate with others, is often raised in the context of employment terminations based on union membership. Thus, an employer cannot condition employment on an employee’s agreement not to join a labor union and other employment organization.
- Whistleblowing: It is a California public policy to provide protection for employees who report the illegal behavior of their employers to the government and other investigatory bodies.
Wrongful Termination Based on Public Policy
Wrongful termination suits based on public policy in California are focused on the fact that an employment relationship was ended because the employee committed an act or actions that furthered a fundamental or substantial policy that affected public interest. In Los Angeles, when determining whether an action was taken in furtherance of public policy, the claim cannot be focused on an action that only affected the interests of the employer and or employee. Thus, instead of focusing on the damages caused and the compensation deserved to an individual, the underlying claim must be based on advancing the general social policies of the jurisdiction where the claim is being heard. Furthermore, the statute providing the bases for relief must not be one that simply focuses on regulating the conduct of private parties, or simply imposes conditions, the fulfillment of which would not affect or impact a fundamental public policy. Instead, the goal of the underlying statute must be related to assisting and furthering the good of the public.
Legal Assistance and Advice for Employment Termination Disputes
Wrongful termination suits based on public policy require legal representation by an attorney who is extremely knowledgeable of both California state and federal public policy. If you need legal representation and advice with a wrongful termination public policy issue, contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Los Angeles, California.