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What constitutes wrongful termination in California?

Wrongful termination happens whenever an employee is discharged for a reason contrary to law. Although in many cases employers have broad discretion to terminate the employment of their employees, there are cases where the termination is wrongful and the employee may be entitled to remedies under the law of California. This blog post will provide a quick summary of the circumstances under which a former employee can bring a case of wrongful termination under California law.

First, some employees are employed pursuant to an employment agreement that restricts the reasons for termination. This doesn't apply to most employees: At-will employment is the default arrangement in the Golden State. This means that unless there is an employment agreement to the contrary, most employees in California can be terminated for any reason not expressly prohibited by law. Many employees, however, have an employment contract only allowing termination for good cause. In the absence of good cause, a termination may be wrongful.

Is it possible for a person employed at will to be wrongfully terminated? Yes. Under California law, employers may not discharge employees because of their membership of a protected class. Employees may not be fired because of their race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a veteran, being over the age of 40, and other reasons. If a termination happens for any of these prohibited reasons, the termination may be wrongful under California law.

Another kind of wrongful termination case that may apply to at-will employees is employees discharged for blowing the whistle on their employers. Employers may not retaliate against employees who report certain kinds of illegal conduct. If they retaliate by terminating the employment of an employee, the employee may have a good claim for wrongful termination against their former employer.

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