If you’re like many people who have lost a job, you suspect that your firing was an unfair dismissal – but what is unfair dismissal, and what can you do if it’s happened to you?
What is Unfair Dismissal?
Unfair dismissal is another term for wrongful termination, which is a legal phrase in California that refers to an employer illegally firing an employee. Although we live in an at-will employment state, which means an employer or employee can terminate employment at any time, employers still have to stick to legal reasons when they let someone go.
What At-Will Employment Means
According to the Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, “employment may be terminated at the will of either party. Both the employer and the employee are free to end the employment relationship at any time, with no penalty being assessed to either. Unless the parties have previously agreed to the contrary, there is no notice required to be given by either party.”
Employers can’t terminate your employment based on your:
- Age (over 40)
- Marital status
- Medical condition
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
Employers can’t retaliate against you for participating in a protected activity, either. Protected activities include:
- Forming a union
- Making discrimination complaints
If an employer did terminate you for one of these reasons, you may be looking at an unfair dismissal – and you could possibly have grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
There are several federal and state laws that protect employees, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act says, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer… to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Not all California employees are at-will employees. Many have employment contracts in place – and if that’s the case for you, you need to know that your employer is responsible for holding up its end of the bargain. If it doesn’t, you could have grounds to sue for unfair dismissal.
Many contracts promise an employee that he or she will be employed for a set period of time. Some contracts also include clauses that say the employer can only fire an employee for “good cause” or for specific reasons (which would also be listed in the contract). Like any other contract, this is a legal document – and your employer is not supposed to break it.
An employment contract doesn’t always have to be written. In fact, sometimes it’s implied. That means some actions or statements your employer made have established an employment contract. (One example is an employee handbook that says something about the employer only being able to fire workers for “good cause.”)
Violation of Public Policy
There are other reasons that employers can’t use to fire employees, as well. These are often called violations of public policy, and that term refers to an employer dismissing a worker for doing something that exercises his or her legal right, or for refusing to do something illegal.
At-will employees are also protected from unfair dismissal when they:
- Refuse to commit an illegal act
- Do something that’s entirely within their rights when they’re not “on the clock”
- Report sexual harassment
- Take leave or time off for a protected absence
Let’s say an employee belongs to an activist group that lobbies the government for net neutrality, and she attends meetings and fulfills her role in the group on her own time – and her employer doesn’t like it. The employer can’t fire her simply because she’s in that group.
Now let’s say an employee reports his employer for unfair hiring practices, or reports sexual harassment that he has seen or been the victim of. The employer can’t fire him for either of those reasons.
Both of these cases could be unfair dismissal, and each employee could have cause to bring a lawsuit against the employer.
Do You Think You’re the Victim of Unfair Dismissal?
If you suspect your employer unfairly dismissed you, we may be able to help you get compensation. Call us right away at 818-230-8380 for a free case review right now. If you’re entitled to compensation, we can help you get it.