San Francisco Wrongful Termination Lawyer
At Rukin Hyland, our attorneys stand up for the rights of employees who have suffered wrongful termination. We know that getting fired from a job is one of the most stressful and difficult experiences a person can endure. All employees should consider various issues once they’ve been terminated, to ensure that they understand their legal rights and that their employer meets its legal obligations.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination?
Unfair treatment in the workplace is not necessarily illegal, and an employer may have the right to discharge an employee for a myriad of lawful reasons. However, there are a number of reasons that the employee may sue the employer for wrongful discharge. Also known as a Tameny Claim, an employee may be able to bring a lawsuit if they were wrongfully terminated for:
- Refusing to engage in an illegal activity
- Retaliation for exercising a statutory right or privilege such as filing a workers compensation claim, taking family or medical leave, serving on a jury, or taking breaks
- Reporting a violation, workplace safety or other
- Performing a mandatory obligation
- Breach of an employment contract
Furthermore, in wrongful termination cases, an employee’s damages are not limited to just lost wages. They may also receive compensation for emotional distress caused as part of being wrongfully terminated.
Were the reasons for my termination unlawful?
Generally, California employees are presumed to be employed “at-will”–meaning, the employer has a right to terminate an employee’s employment for any reason or no reason, with or without notice. Cal. Labor Code § 2922. The exception to this rule is that an employer may not terminate an employee for a reason that is otherwise prohibited by law–for example, because of an employee’s protected status (such as race, national origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation, to name a few) or for engaging in protected activity under the law (such as whistleblowing or making a sexual harassment complaint). An employer also may not terminate an employee in an effort to prevent the employee from exercising a legal right to take a leave of absence, such as family and medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or California Family Rights Act (CFRA) or a medical leave as a disability accommodation.
An employer who terminates an employee for an unlawful reason is unlikely to be up front about it. Most employees who believe that their employer terminated them illegally must come up with circumstantial evidence showing that the employer’s stated reason was pretextual, and that the employer in fact terminated the employee because of an illegal reason. Such circumstantial evidence could include general comments by the supervisor or manager involved in the termination that suggest a bias or animus against members of the employee’s protected class. In addition, an employee may be able to establish wrong doing by showing that the employer treated him or her differently with respect to a workplace rule. For example, evidence that an employer terminated an African-American employee for violating a workplace rule and did not terminate non-African-American employees who violated the same rule under similar circumstances could support a race discrimination claim. Consultation with an experienced employment lawyer can help terminated employees determine the likelihood of obtaining the necessary evidence to successfully pursue a termination claim.
Constructive Dismissal vs. Wrongful Termination
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.
Did my employer pay me?
California 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.
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.
Let us handle your wrongful termination case
Our attorneys are experienced, skilled and knowledgeable in both qui tam law and employment law. We make certain that clients are properly guided while providing the representation necessary for any wrongful termination.
If you would like to speak with our San Francisco lawyers about wrongful termination, please contact us.