Getting fired or laid off from your job is always an unpleasant surprise, even if things have been going badly at work for a long time. Some people go into survival mode and immediately start looking for ways to reduce their expenses and access money quickly while they look for a new job. They cancel all their entertainment subscriptions and gym memberships, and they request a credit limit increase on their credit cards. Others start trying to find a place to lay the blame. They get angry at the human resources employee who broke the news to them, the customer who complained about something trivial, or the manager whose management decisions caused the company to suffer financial losses. They might even start thinking about how their boss never liked them from the start. As for whether your employer has a right to fire you, the answer is yes in a wider variety of situations than those where it is not. Employers do sometimes unjustly fire employees, and when this happens, legal remedies are available to the employee. The San Francisco wrongful termination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you if your employer has fired you for an unfair or illegal reason.
How Can You Tell Whether Your Employer Fired You Unjustly or Whether You are Just Being a Sore Loser?
Most workers in California are employed on an at-will basis. In an at-will employment relationship, you are free to quit your job whenever you choose. The law does not even require you to give two weeks’ notice; even if you walk off the job in the middle of your shift or simply stop showing up to work, your employer must still pay you for the hours you worked. Employers can also fire employees at any time in an at-will relationship; by hiring you on an at-will basis, your employer is not guaranteeing that your job will last for a set period of time. Your employer can fire you for almost any reason, even if you did not violate company policy or cause financial harm to the business, but the law prohibits termination of employment for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, even in an at-will employment relationship.
If you are employed pursuant to an employment contract, then getting out of the employment relationship is not as simple. If you quit before the contract expires, or if your employer fires you before the contract period is up, then one of you can sue the other for breach of contract. Some employment contracts include early termination provisions. These provisions state that if one of the parties wants to get out of the contractual relationship before the expiration date listed in the contract, that party must do X, Y, and Z; if the party does X, Y, and Z, then they are not liable for breach of contract. For example, the contract may stipulate that if your employer terminates the contract early, they must pay you a severance package equal to three months’ salary plus a prorated amount of the bonus you would have earned that year.
Discrimination, Retaliation, and Wrongful Termination of Employment in San Francisco
For employees hired under contract, wrongful termination claims are often synonymous with breach of contract. In other words, the employer was wrong to fire you because they signed a legally binding contract promising to keep you employed until a much later date than the one on which they terminated the employment relationship. For employees hired at will, the wrongful termination claim usually comes down to discrimination, retaliation, or both.
Discrimination is when an employer takes an adverse action against you because of a protected characteristic of yours. In the context of a wrongful termination case, the adverse action is the termination of employment, but in other discrimination cases, the adverse action could be excessive scrutiny of the employee’s work or denial of promotions for which the employee is eligible, among other adverse actions. A protected characteristic is a stable personal characteristic of the employee, such as race, sex, national origin, or family status.
Like discrimination, retaliation also involves the employer taking an adverse action against the employee for an illegal reason. In the case of retaliation, the illegal reason for the adverse action is not a protected characteristic but rather a protected activity. Protected activities are rights that employees may exercise according to federal and state labor laws. These include demanding pay that equals or exceeds the legal minimum wage, filing workers’ compensation claims after a work injury, requesting accommodations for a disability, reporting misconduct by the employer to the relevant authorities, or taking a temporary leave of absence from work for medical or family caregiving reasons.
Severance Offers Can Be a Cover for Wrongful Termination of Employment
Severance packages are compensation that employers pay to employees when the employer unexpectedly terminates the employment relationship. Employers often provide severance pay when they must lay off multiple employees because of downsizing or a corporate merger. If you are employed on an at-will basis, you probably feel lucky if your employer offers you severance pay since, legally, your employer could just give you the boot without paying you anything.
The catch is that, in order to receive their severance pay, employees must sign a separation agreement. In this agreement, the employee acknowledges that the severance pay is fair compensation for the termination of the employment relationship and promises not to sue the employer for wrongful termination. Employers may offer severance packages because they do not want employees to sue them, even though the employee has a valid reason to sue. From this perspective, they are a bribe for staying silent about discrimination or retaliation. If your employer offers you a separation agreement and severance pay, but you think that you are being fired unjustly, you should talk to a San Francisco employment lawyer before you sign.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Wrongful Termination in San Francisco
The San Francisco employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if your employer has fired you for an illegal reason. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in San Francisco, California, to set up a consultation.