San Francisco Wrongful Termination Lawyer
Do you think you were unlawfully terminated from your job? At Rukin Hyland in San Francisco, our attorneys know that getting fired from a job is one of the most stressful and difficult experiences a person can endure. If you have been fired, there are many factors to consider when evaluating whether or not the termination occurred for illegal reasons. To learn more or to explore the specifics of your claim, contact our experienced team of lawyers today and set up a free consultation.
What is “at-will” employment?
Generally speaking, California employees are presumed to be employed “at-will.” This simply means that an employee does not have a contract for a set length of time and an employer has a right to terminate employment for any reason or no reason, with or without notice. Cal. Labor Code § 2922. Although it may seem like your employer has complete freedom to fire you, this is untrue. State and Federal laws such as California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provide protection against wrongful termination.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Unfair treatment in the workplace is not necessarily illegal and an employer may have the right to discharge an employee for many lawful reasons. However, even though most employees are “at-will”, there are reasons that an employee may not be fired. An employee may not be terminated for the following reasons:
- Exercising a right such as filing a workers compensation claim, taking family leave, using sick time, or taking breaks
- Reporting a violation such as a health or safety concern
- Performing a mandatory obligation such as serving on jury duty or in the military
- Whistleblowing or refusing to engage in an illegal activity
- Discrimination based on an employee’s protected status, such as race, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or even political affiliation
An employer who terminates an employee for an unlawful reason is unlikely to be up front about it. Moreover, some employers will use probational periods for new employees to avoid potential liability for a wrongful dismissal. Therefore, employees who believe that their employer terminated them illegally must identify circumstantial evidence showing that the employer’s stated reason was both illegal and a substantial motivating factor for the termination. This circumstantial evidence can include comments by the supervisor or manager involved in the termination that suggest a bias. Some tips for collecting evidence include:
- Documenting written evidence, including emails, text messages, or slack messages
- Obtaining relevant records such as pay stubs, performance reports, or review notes
- Gathering the information of potential witnesses who may have observed any illegal activity or discrimination
In addition, an employee may be able to establish wrong doing by showing that the employer treated them differently than another employee who acted in the same way. For example, if an employer terminated an African-American employee for violating a workplace rule but did not terminate non-African-American employees who violated the same rule under similar circumstances, that could support that they were terminated for racial reasons. In cases like these, consultation with an experienced lawyer can help terminated employees determine the likelihood of obtaining the necessary evidence to successfully pursue a termination claim.
Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitation is the amount of time after an event that a person has to file a lawsuit. After this time period has passed, generally a claim can no longer be filed. Depending on the type of wrongful termination claim being filed, the statute of limitations will differ.
- Violation of the FEHA, which includes most harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims – one year from the date of termination to file with the Department of Fair Employment or Housing (DFEH) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Once the charge is filed, the statute of limitations is tolled, meaning that it will not run out while a claim is being investigated. After an agency reviews the claim, they will issue a Notice of a Right to Sue which will come with it’s own set of deadlines.
- Violation of public policy or an implied contract – two years
- Violation of a written contract – four years
- Violation of whisteblower protections – three years
As can be seen above, the time limits for filing an unlawful dismissal claim are not always clear. Speak with an attorney as soon as possible if you believe you have a claim to ensure that you are not missing a deadline to file.
In wrongful termination cases, an employee normally seeks damages for lost wages, past and future, as well as any benefits. However, damages are not limited to just monetary compensation. One may also receive compensation for anxiety, emotional distress, or depression caused as part of being wrongfully terminated. Additionally, if your case is successful, your employer will also be responsible for covering any attorney’s fees and costs. In rare cases, an employee may be able to recover punitive damages if an employer was found guilty of fraud or malice.
Termination and Wages
State law requires employers to pay employees all wages owed at the time of termination. Cal. Labor Code § 201. This includes not only the employee’s wages up to the termination date, but also all of the employee’s accrued and unused vacation or paid time off (PTO). Cal. Labor Code § 227.3. For commission employees, employers must also upon termination pay all earned commissions that can be reasonably calculated at the time of termination. Cal. Labor Code § 201. However, this does not apply to unpaid sick leave.
Furthermore, if an employer willfully fails to pay a terminated employee all wages–including accrued vacation and earned commissions–at the time of termination, the employee may also be entitled to waiting time penalties. Waiting time penalties accrue in an amount equal to the employee’s daily rate of pay multiplied by the number of days the employee was not paid, up to 30 days. Cal. Labor Code § 203.
Wrongful Termination Settlements
Like many cases, wrongful termination claims don’t often reach trial because settlements can be the best option for both parties. For plaintiffs, finding the circumstantial evidence necessary to win can be challenging and a 1997 study revealed that they only win roughly half of the cases that end up at trial. For employers, the stigma of being associated with this type of claim can be damaging enough itself even without a verdict. While there are examples of multi-million dollar verdicts, the average hovers around the $40,000 range. However, having an attorney on your side will help you negotiate a higher settlement amount.
You do not necessarily need to be fired in order to pursue a claim. In certain cases, if an employer makes working conditions so terrible that an employee has no choice but to quit, there may be a case for a constructive dismissal or discharge. If you feel that any reasonable person would think of resigning under conditions that you endured, contact us to determine if you have a valid claim. The damages for wrongful termination and constructive discharge are the same under California Law.
Let our San Francisco lawyers us handle your case
If you believe you have been the victim of a wrongful termination in San Francisco, you need an attorney on your side. Employment issues are often complex and without knowing the law, there is no way for you to tell if you have case until you get an expert opinion. Our firm has been handling these type of issues since 2003 and we make certain that clients are properly guided while providing the representation necessary for any wrongful termination. Moreover, we have heard all the excuses that employers use to defend themselves against these types of claims and know how to present your case. If you would like to speak with our San Francisco lawyers about a potential claim, please fill out the contact form below or give us a call at (415) 421-1800.
“Rukin Hyland aren’t just good lawyers, they care about giving advice, answering questions, and crafting legal strategy, and they care deeply about getting good outcomes for their clients. That’s why I would recommend Rukin Hyland to anyone who has an employment law issue.” – Elizabeth