Wrongful termination statistics
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal workplace discrimination law, including laws involving wrongful termination. In 2017, the agency received a total of 84,254 charges of workplace discrimination. Of those, 5,423, or 6.4 percent, were filed in California. Workplace retaliation was the top cause of workplace discrimination charges in the state, accounting for 50.7 percent of all charges. Race was the second most common charge, accounting for 33.4 percent of all charges. Sex-related charges were the third most common type of charge, accounting for 27.7 percent of all charges.
Was I wrongfully terminated from my job?
Even though California is an “at will” employment state, there are many things employers do that leave them vulnerable to wrongful termination claims. Here are four of the most common causes of wrongful termination lawsuits:
1. Breach of contract
Employers cannot fire employees in violation of the terms of a written, verbal or implied employment contract. Employee handbooks and office memos can also be considered contracts. For example, if an employer issues a memo saying that employees are subject to termination if they are late three times, it cannot then fire an employee for being late two times.
2. Violating anti-discrimination laws
Employers cannot terminate the employment of workers due to a protected characteristic. Under federal law, protected characteristics include race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, and immigration status. Under California law, protected characteristics also include marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, AIDS/HIV, medical condition, political activities or affiliations, military or veteran status and status as a victim of domestic violence, assault or stalking.
3. Retaliation against whistleblowers
California whistleblower laws protect employees from retaliation, including firing, after reporting illegal or unethical acts by their employer. For instance, it is unlawful to fire a worker for reporting workplace safety violations or the illegal dumping of waste into public waterways.
4. Violating protected time off
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, employees cannot be fired for taking unpaid leave for childbirth, to care for sick family members or to serve in the military. They also cannot be let go for taking time off to serve on a jury or vote. California law also protects workers who take time off to attend a child’s school activity or for domestic violence leave.
What should I do if I’m a victim of wrongful termination?
Getting fired can be a very stressful and emotional experience. However, there are a few steps individuals can take to improve their position in the event of wrongful termination.
- Remain calm and don’t act out against the employer
- Carefully review any employment contracts or employee handbooks that are in place
- Document as much as possible
- Request access to the personnel file
- Request a severance package
- Get all agreements confirmed in writing
- Return all company property
- Contact a wrongful termination lawyer for assistance
- Do I need to hire a wrongful termination attorney?
Individuals who believe they have been unfairly fired should contact a wrongful termination lawyer for advice. The attorney could evaluate the case and provide essential legal guidance on the strength of the case, gathering evidence and filing a claim. Legal counsel could also help calculate the amount of damages owed. These damages may include:
- Front pay and back pay
- Lost benefits
- Increased medical expenses
- Compensation for emotional distress, physical pain and/or loss of reputation
- Punitive damages if the employer is guilty of severe misconduct