San Francisco Wrongful Termination Lawyer

Do you think you were unlawfully terminated from your job? At Rukin Hyland & Riggin LLP in San Francisco, our attorneys know that getting fired from a job is one of the most stressful experiences one can endure. Fortunately, there are laws preventing illegal terminations and legal options for compensation. Our San Francisco wrongful termination attorneys have decades of experience representing employees in exactly these types of claims.

If you were fired, there are many factors to consider when determining if the termination occurred for illegal reasons.

What is “At-Will” Employment?

Generally speaking, California employees are presumed to be employed “at-will.” According to Cal. Labor Code § 2922, this means that employees without contracts:

This does NOT mean that your employer has complete freedom to fire you.  If you are an “at-will” employee, you may be fired for any reason or no reason—so long as it is not an unlawful reason (i.e. “wrongful termination.”).

What is Wrongful Termination?

Even though most employees are “at-will” employees, there are reasons for firing an employee that would violate California or federal law.  For example, an employee may not be terminated from his or her employment for the following reasons:


If your termination occurred for one of the above reasons, you may have a legal claim against your employer. However, it is important to remember that not all terminations are illegal. Valid reasons for termination include:


An employer who terminates an employee for an unlawful reason is unlikely to be upfront about it. Some employers also use probational periods for new employees to avoid potential liability. Employees who believe that they were terminated illegally must identify evidence showing that the employer’s reason was both illegal and a “substantial motivating factor” for the termination.  Evidence can include comments by the supervisor or manager involved that suggest a bias. Some tips for collecting evidence include:

An employee may also establish wrongdoing by showing that the employer treated them differently than another employee who acted in the same way.  For example, an employer terminates 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. This could support the employee’s claim that the termination occurred for racial reasons.

Consultation with an experienced wrongful termination lawyer can help terminated employees determine if they have the necessary evidence to successfully pursue a termination claim.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination in California?

A statute of limitations is the amount of time after an event that a person has to file a lawsuit. After the passage of this time period, you generally cannot file a claim.  Because the statute of limitations may vary depending on the type of claim you choose you file, you should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible if you believe you have been the victim of wrongful termination.

What Are the Potential Damages for Wrongful Termination in California?

In wrongful termination cases, an employee may seek damages for:


State law requires employers to pay employees all wages owed at the time of termination. Cal. Labor Code § 201.  This includes the employee’s wages up to the termination date and also the employee’s accrued and unused vacation or paid time off (PTO). Cal. Labor Code § 227.3.  For commission employees, employers must also pay all earned commissions calculated at the time of termination.  Cal. Labor Code § 201. This does not apply to unpaid sick leave.

If an employer willfully fails to pay a terminated employee all wages, including accrued vacation and earned commissions, the employee may also receive 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.

What is Constructive Discharge?

You can also pursue a claim without termination. An employer can make working conditions so terrible that an employee has no choice but to quit. If this happens, there may be a case for constructive dismissal or discharge. If you think any reasonable person would consider resigning under similar conditions, contact a San Francisco wrongful termination attorney to determine if you have a valid claim. Furthermore, wrongful termination and constructive discharge damages are the same under California Law.


Wrongful Termination FAQ

Under California law, “wrongful termination” refers to a situation where an employee is fired against public policy, in retaliation for objecting to unlawful conduct in the workplace. An employee may bring a wrongful termination claim (also known as a “Tameny” claim after the California Supreme Court’s decision in Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co.) where the discharge “violates fundamental principles of public policy” reflected in a state or federal statute or regulation. For example, in the Tameny case, the employee was fired for refusing to participate in an illegal scheme to fix retain gasoline prices. An employee does not have a wrongful termination claim just because the firing was unfair or unjust.
Employment lawyers can assist employees who suffer a wrongful termination. An employment lawyer can evaluate the facts of your case and advise you about the risks and potential benefits of pursuing a claim for wrongful termination.
An employee bringing a wrongful termination case has the burden of proving her case by a preponderance of the evidence. In most cases, proof is circumstantial. An employee does not need “smoking gun” evidence to win her wrongful termination claim. An employee may win a wrongful termination case by pointing to an employer’s shifting reasons for a firing, inconsistencies in the employer’s story, and a closeness in time between the protected conduct and the discharge.
How long a lawsuit continues depends on many factors, many of which are not in the control of the employee. According to court statistics, nearly all cases settle before trial. In fact, some cases settle before they are even filed in court. Other times, the parties are able to settle the claim within a few months after it is filed in court. Absent settlement, a case can take several years to get to trial.
It depends. The billing rate for lawyers in California can range between $200 and $1,000 per hour. However, most lawyers are willing to work out some alternative fee arrangement in wrongful termination cases. If the case is strong, an attorney may be willing to take on substantial risk and costs by handling the case on a contingency fee basis. In that situation, the employee only pays the lawyer’s fee (a percentage of the recovery) if the employee wins. Other times, the lawyer may agree to accept a reduced hourly fee in exchange for a smaller percentage of the recovery. Fee arrangements are subject to negotiation.
Generally, an employer does not need a good reason, or “cause,” to fire an employee. Indeed, an employer does not need any reason at all to fire an employee. Unlike workers in other countries, employees in the United States have no job security absent a written contract or union bargaining agreement. In order to fight a job termination, the employee must be able to show that the firing violated a fundamental public policy or worker protection law. An employment attorney can help you determine whether your firing was unlawful, or merely unfair.
How long you have to file suit depends on the law that has been violated. For example, an employee has three years to file a complaint of employment discrimination or retaliation with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (the agency that administers the California Fair Employment and Housing Act). A common law claim for wrongful termination, on the other hand, is governed by a two year statute of limitation.
Yes, non-union employees in California can be fired for no reason, or for a bad reason. An employer can fire an employee because it is Tuesday, or because the employee failed to say please or thank you to the receptionist. However, an employer may fire an employee for an unlawful reason.


“Rukin Hyland & Riggin LLP 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 & Riggin LLP to anyone who has an employment law issue.” – Elizabeth