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. If you were fired, there are many factors to consider when determining if the termination occurred for illegal reasons.
- What is wrongful termination?
- What is at-will employment?
- Finding evidence in wrongful termination cases.
- Statute of limitations for wrongful termination.
- Damages and wages after termination
- Wrongful termination settlements and constructive dismissal
What is Wrongful Termination?
An employer may have the right to discharge an employee for many lawful reasons. Even though most employees are “at-will”, there are unlawful reasons for firing an employee. 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
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:
- Can be terminated for any reason or no reason
- Need no notice for termination
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, protect against wrongful termination.
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 main factor for the termination. Evidence can include comments by the supervisor or manager involved 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
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 that the termination occurred for racial reasons.
Consultation with an experienced lawyer can help terminated employees determine if they have 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 the passage of this time period, you cannot file a claim. The statute of limitations will differ based on the type of claim as well as the agency you choose to file with.
Filing with the DFEH and EEOC
An employee has one year from the date of termination to file with the Department of Fair Employment or Housing (DFEH). If filing a charge with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this deadline is 300 days in California. After filing a charge, the statute of limitations is tolled. This means that it will not run during the claim’s investigation. After an agency reviews the claim, they will try to mediate and get the parties to settle. If negotiations fail, they will issue a Notice of a Right to Sue which comes with its own set of deadlines. It is imperative to have a wrongful termination attorney on your side if you decide to pursue a claim against your employer.
Other Time Limits
Other statutes of limitations for wrongful termination cases include:
- Breach public policy or an implied contract – two years
- Whisteblower claims – three years
- WARN Act violations – three years
- Violation of a written contract – four years
As shown 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 seeks damages for:
- Lost wages, past, and future
- Any other benefits
- Anxiety, emotional distress, or depression caused by the termination
- Punitive damages if an employer is guilty of fraud or malice
- Attorney’s fees and costs if your case is successful
Termination and Wages
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.
Wrongful Termination Settlements
Wrongful termination claims don’t often reach trial because settlements can be the best option for both parties. For plaintiffs, finding the evidence necessary to win can be challenging. A 1997 study revealed that plaintiffs only win roughly half of the cases that end up at trial. For employers, the stigma of association with this type of claim can be damaging enough even without a verdict. While there are examples of multi-million dollar verdicts, the average hovers around the $40,000 range. Having an attorney on your side will help you negotiate a higher settlement amount.
Despite common belief, you can 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 a constructive dismissal or discharge. If you think any reasonable person would consider resigning under similar conditions, contact at attorney to determine if you have a valid claim. Furthermore, wrongful termination and constructive discharge damages are the same under California Law.
Contact an Attorney
If you believe you have been the victim of wrongful termination in San Francisco, you need an attorney on your side. Employment issues are often complex and there is no way to tell if you have a case until you get an expert opinion. Our firm has been handling these type of issues since 2003. We have heard all the excuses that employers use to defend themselves against wrongful termination claims.
“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