Were you terminated by your employer? In California, absent a “contract, express or implied, limiting the employer’s right to discharge the employee,” employment contracts are generally terminable “at will” of either party Cal. Lab. Code § 2922; Foley v. Interactive Data Corp., 47 Cal.3d 654, 665 (1988). However, termination of an “at-will” employee is “subject to limits imposed by public policy since otherwise the threat of discharge could be used to coerce employees into committing crimes, concealing wrongdoing, or taking other action harmful to the public weal.” Id.
While termination for any reason, or even no reason at all, is generally permissible, termination for a reason that violates a law or is against public policy would be impermissible.
For example, in California, employees may not be terminated for joining a union under Labor Code 923. Similarly, employees may not be terminated for their political activities. Labor Code 1101-1102. Further, termination may be wrongful if an employer with at least 75 employees lays off 50 or more employees without providing at least 60 days’ notice beforehand to the employees. Labor Code 1400-1402.
Most commonly, many terminations are wrongful for violating the FEHA, which prohibits the termination of employees for discriminatory reasons (e.g. on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national orientation, sexual orientation), in retaliation for filing a complaint against the employer for workplace harassment (sexual or non-sexual harassment on the basis of race, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, age, etc.), or by failing to meet its obligations to provide pregnancy leave and family leave. Cal. Government Code 12940, 12945, 12945.2.
Thus, even if your employment contract does not have a specific time period or restrict your employer’s ability to terminate you, you could still consider bringing a wrongful termination claim against your employer if their actions violate public policy or a specific legal statute.