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Think Before You Fire: How to Avoid a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

Employers in California should be mindful that while California is an at-will state, meaning employees can be fired for any reason, that doesn’t always mean any reason. For example, it is against the law firm California employers to fire for discriminatory reasons, in retaliation for an employee exercising his or her rights, in violation of a contract with an employee, or for a reason that is contrary to public policy (for example, refusing to do something illegal). Employers must also not fire an employee who files a complaint with the government concerning an employer’s illegal activities. Similarly, employers must not fire an employee who refuses to perform tasks that would violate state safety standards. Choosing to terminate an employee under any of the above conditions could result in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Discriminatory Firing Practices

California and federal law prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of:

  • race,
  • national origin (including language use restrictions),
  • ancestry,1436337864_33
  • color,
  • religion (including religious dress and grooming practices),
  • disability (medical and physical, and including AIDS and HIV),
  • medical condition (including genetic characteristics, cancer, or a record or history of cancer), genetic information,
  • age (40 and older),
  • marital status,
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and/or related medical conditions),
  • sexual orientation,
  • gender,
  • gender identity or expression.

This list is not exhaustive. If an employee you wish to fire belongs in a protected class such as the ones listed above, contact an experienced business attorney before making any decisions.

Employee Privacy and Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination lawsuits may also arise for reasons relating to workplace privacy issues. For example, in May 2015, a former sales executive filed a wrongful termination suit against her employer, alleging she was fired for disabling a GPS-enabled app from her work phone that tracked her movements not only at work but also while off duty, including on weekends and in the middle of the night. Employee privacy is an area of law that is still developing, so employers should make sure they do not intrude more than necessary. For more information on workplace privacy laws in California, and what is and is not off limits for employers, click here.

To discuss a threatened wrongful termination lawsuit, or how to avoid one, contact the experienced business lawyers at Hart, Watters, & Carter today.