What Constitutes Wrongful Termination?

Employment in California is generally “at-will,” which means that either the employer or employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time without good cause. However, under certain circumstances termination may be considered unlawful, and an employer can be exposed to possible liability for wrongful termination. It is important to know when termination may be wrongful under the law so that possible legal claims by former employees can be avoided.


If you have an employment contract

If you and your employee entered into an employment contract that provides job security for a specific duration, California law requires you to show good cause for terminating the employee in breach of the contract. At times, in the absence of a written contract, an employee may try to claim that an employment contract was implied based on promises or other statements made by an employer. In order to avoid any claims of an implied contract, be sure to include clear language regarding “at-will” employment in your handbooks, policies, and all communications with potential employees and employees.


If the termination involves unlawful discrimination or retaliation

A termination is wrongful if it stems from bias based on many protected categories. In California, employees are protected from discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, age, disability, medical conditions, gender (including gender identity and expression), sex (including pregnancy-related reasons), sexual orientation, religion, ancestry, genetic information, and marital status. The termination may also be deemed wrongful if it is in response to an employee’s complaint regarding unlawful workplace discrimination or harassment (retaliation).

If the termination violates public policy

A termination may be found to violate public policy if it involves reasons such as the following:


  • Participation in union activity.
  • The employee refused to do something unlawful.
  • The employee’s service in the military.
  • The employee took time off to vote, serve on a jury, or fulfill another civic duty.
  • Whistle-blowing.
  • The employee filed for worker’s compensation or exercised another legal right.

If you are facing claims of wrongful termination, it is important to have an experienced California employment attorney handling your case. These claims can be complicated and quite serious, so please do not hesitate to call the Structure Law Group in San Jose at (408) 441-7500 today for assistance.