Losing a job can be a deeply unsettling experience, and it becomes even more distressing if you believe you were wrongfully terminated. Depending on the circumstances, you may wonder, “Can I sue my employer for firing me?” The answer to this question can be complex and largely depends on the specifics of your situation. An experienced employment lawyer can advise if you have legal grounds to sue an employer for wrongful termination.
At-Will Employment and Its Exceptions
The majority of employment in the United States, including in California, is considered “at-will”. This means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all, as long as it’s not an illegal reason. Conversely, employees can also leave their job whenever they wish.
However, there are several critical exceptions to the at-will doctrine:
Contractual Employees: If you signed an employment contract promising job security for a certain period, and the employer fires you before the end of that period without a valid reason stated in the contract, you might be able to sue for breach of contract.
Discrimination: Federal and state laws prohibit firing an employee based on certain protected characteristics such as race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, and genetic information. Some states and localities may offer additional protections.
Retaliation: Employers cannot fire employees for asserting their rights under employment laws, such as complaining about harassment or discrimination, reporting workplace safety issues, or making a claim for workers’ compensation.
Public Policy Violations: An employer can’t fire an employee if it would violate the state’s public policy. For instance, an employer can’t terminate an employee for taking time off to vote, to serve on a jury, or to serve in the military, among other things.
Steps to Take If You Think You’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated
If you believe you have been unlawfully fired, there are several steps you should consider:
Consult an Employment Lawyer: An experienced attorney can provide you with advice tailored to your specific situation. They can help you understand your rights, the strength of your case, and the potential remedies available to you.
Document Everything: Keep all records related to your employment and termination. This includes contracts, performance reviews, emails, and any other communication you had with your employer. Document instances of discriminatory or retaliatory behavior, making sure to include dates, locations, and witnesses.
File a Complaint: Depending on the nature of your case, you may need to file a complaint with a federal or state agency before you can sue your employer. For example, if you were fired due to discrimination or harassment, you may need to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s equivalent agency.
Evaluate Settlement Options: In some cases, your employer may offer a settlement. An attorney can help you evaluate whether the settlement is fair and negotiate better terms, if appropriate.
The bottom line is, yes, you can potentially sue your employer for firing you, but it depends on the circumstances of your termination. Employment law is complex, and each case is unique. Therefore, it’s critical to consult with a firm of employment lawyers such as Stalwart Legal if you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated. They can help you navigate the legal process and advocate for your rights.