If a California employer is found to implement an adverse employment action in violation of public policy, an employee damaged by the action may initiate a tort claim of wrongful termination. California courts explained that when an employee is fired for performing an act that public policy would support or for refusing to do something that the public would condemn, there is a presumption that it was a wrongful termination.

Ending at-will employment in California

Most California workers are at-will employees — engaged in an employment relationship that is at the will of either party. If the employment contract signed by the parties does not contain a defined period, courts treat the employment relationship as at-will. Courts have held that an employer’s right to fire an at-will employee is subject to public policy and, of course, state and federal employment laws.

How to prove a claim of wrongful termination in California

To prove wrongful termination, a plaintiff must prove that the termination violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the state law prohibiting employment discrimination based on statutorily protected categories; any other state law protecting employees, or public policy. Bringing an action under FEHA does not preclude bringing a wrongful termination cause of action. Following is a list of claims of wrongful termination:

  • Discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, age, disability or some other protected category
  • Jury duty service
  • Pregnancy leave
  • Political affiliation
  • Marital status
  • Refusal to enter a dangerous workplace
  • Request for overtime, meal breaks or rest periods
  • Request for a religious or disability accommodation
  • Family or medical leave absence
  • Refusal to sign an illegal noncompete clause

Wrongful termination cases usually turn on how the complex set of facts are presented to the court.


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