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Wrongful Termination

California Wrongful Termination Attorneys

Wrongful termination in the workplace violates both California and Federal Law.  If you believe you have suffered wrongful termination at work in San Francisco, or elsewhere in California, you may be able to obtain compensation and seek justice for the wrongs you have suffered.  Your legal remedies could include both money damages and, if you have not yet officially been released from your workplace, negotiation for an appropriate severance package that includes adequate compensation.

When an employee seeks advice regarding wrongful termination, the employee must show more than simply unfair treatment.  The termination must be “wrongful” in the sense of violating the employee’s legal rights.

Employment At Will in the Workplace

Almost every state (including California) uses the legal concept of “employment at will.” This means that the employer has the right to terminate an employee with or without a reason, and similarly, the employee has the right to quit employment at any time, with or without a reason. 

There are a number of exceptions to the employee at will doctrine, including:

  • Violations of Public Policy
  • Breach of Contract
  • Breach of Implied Contract 
  • Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealings 
  • Discrimination based on age, race, sex, disability, religion and/or national origin

Under California law and the law of other states, the employment attorney must show one of these exceptions in order to recover for wrongful termination.

Public Policy

California courts can find that a wrongful termination occurred if the discharge violated the public policy of the state or federal government. Public policy refers to an important government interest, such as, for example, protecting whistle-blowers against retaliation by employers. For example, if an employer were allowed to fire the employee for reporting criminal activity by the employer, the court would likely find the termination wrongful as a violation of public policy.

Breach of Contract

The employer and employee can agree to change the at-will doctrine in a signed employment contract.  The contract can set the duration of employment or provide that the employer can only fire the employee for specified reasons, such as if the employee commits a crime. Sometimes the contract will allow the employer to fire the employee only for “good cause,” and the contract will specify what constitutes good cause. California law recognizes that employers do not have unlimited discretion in firing decisions, and that “good cause” means “fair and honest reasons” where the employer exercises “good faith” and does not create a pretext for terminating the employee.

Breach of contract claims by employees also can occur where the employee is in a union and covered under a collective bargaining agreement between the union and the employer. Such a contract normally has a provision stating that employer must have good cause to terminate the employee.  Most union contracts also include a grievance and arbitration clause setting a procedure for resolving disputes.  To pursue a breach of contract claim under a union contract, the employee usually files a grievance, and then sues if the grievance fails.

Breach of Implied Contract

In determining whether there was wrongful termination, some states will look to employee manuals and employee handbooks that outline the company’s discipline or termination protocol.  In such cases, the manual or handbook might imply a contract of continued employment unless the employer can prove that good cause existed for termination.

Courts can also find implied contracts in such things as statements made by your employer about promotions, or about how employees are to be treated in the company. The company policy reflected in a handbook, or the company’s behavior towards employees in the past, could also support an implied contract or breach of promise claim by the employee.

Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

Many states recognize a “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” in every employment contract.  This is an implied obligation on the part of employers to treat their employees fairly, honestly, and ethically. 

If the employer knowingly makes false accusations about an employee in order to justify terminating the employee, this can be considered defamation of character as well as a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  For example, if an employer falsely accuses an employee of stealing, and does so as an excuse to fire the employee, then the employer might be considered to have defamed the employee.  In such case the employer also likely would have breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and consequently, to have wrongfully terminated the employee.

Discrimination

Almost all employees are covered under state and/or federal law from discrimination based on age, race, sex, color, national origin, disability, religion, sexual orientation and pregnancy.

California Wrongful Termination Lawyers

If you need the services of a California wrongful termination attorney, it is important to seek an attorney with expertise and an excellent reputation. The Law Offices of Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto P.L.C. is distinguished by its expertise and national recognition in Civil Rights and Employment Law.  We successfully represent individuals in the areas of work-place discrimination based on race, age, disability, gender, religion and sexual orientation, as well as harassment, wage/hour, retaliatory discharge, and wrongful termination.