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  • Writer's pictureCorey Hall

Was I Wrongfully Terminated in Violation of California Public Policy?

In California, if you are employed without an existing contract in place, then you are considered at-will. This means that you can be terminated for any or no reason at all. With that being said, you can’t be terminated for reasons that violate California public policy.

employee stressed because they have been terminated

How can my employer be in violation of California Public Policy?

You have the right to exercise your legal rights and obligations that affect the greater public, such as reporting to jury duty or not committing a crime because your employer asked you to. That’s right, you can’t be fired for not committing a crime at the request of your employer. For example, you can’t be fired for not falsifying financial reports or for falsifying lab results.

If your employer terminates you for trying to exercise these rights or for fulfilling legal obligations, then they are in violation of California public policy.

There are typically four reasons why a termination would be against California public policy. These are:

  1. Performing a legal or statutory obligation e.g. jury duty or military service;

  2. Refusing to break the law e.g falsifying medical records;

  3. Reporting a violation of the law e.g reporting your employer for medical malpractice;

  4. Exercising a legal right or privilege e.g organizing or attempting to organize a union;

You have the right to sue your employer if you have been wrongfully terminated for any of the activities discussed above.

Let’s go into more detail about the various reasons that would constitute wrongful termination in California.

You cannot be terminated for performing a legal or statutory obligation.

California law protects you from being unlawfully terminated for:

Taking time off to serve on a jury

Sometimes you’re unable to be excused from jury duty. Thankfully you’re protected as you perform your civic duty. Your employer cannot fire you for serving on a jury.

Taking time off to serve as a witness

You can’t help being a witness in a court proceeding. Whether it’s for a criminal case or a civil case you will most likely be subpoenaed or served another court order to appear in court. Your employer can’t fire you for missing work because of this.

Taking time off for military service.

One of the most common reasons for needing to take time off for military service is because an employee is serving in the reserves or national guard. Your employer can’t fire you for taking time off for drills and training.

You can’t be terminated for refusing to break the law.

This one is very straightforward, especially for those that are familiar with the statutes that govern their industry. A simple example is being asked to commit fraud, such as falsifying financial reports given to potential investors.

You can’t be terminated for reporting a violation of the law.

Not only are you protected from being terminated by not refusing to violate the law, but you are also protected from termination if you report your employer for violating the law.

For example, an employee observes their employer, a doctor with their own private practice, perform a procedure that is outside of their legally defined scope of practice. Because the employee knows that the doctor is not allowed to perform the procedure, they report their employer to the California Medical Board. This employee cannot be fired for making this report.

Reporting your employer for a violation of the law is often referred to as “whistleblowing”, in California there are additional laws that support this activity.

You can’t be fired for exercising a legal right.

As an employee in California you are protected from wrongfully terminated for exercising a right or privilege granted to them by law.

You can’t be fired for reporting wage and hour violations.

You can’t be fired for engaging in political activities or speech

You can’t be fired for attempting to organize a union.

What can I do if I was wrongfully terminated in violation of California public policy?

Because cases like these have statues of limitation, it is best to reach out to an employment attorney as soon as possible. Our employment law attorney is available to discuss your wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

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