California law has traditionally provided that most employment relationships are “at will.” What this means is that the employer, under normal circumstances, has the ability to hire and fire employees at their discretion and with or without a reason to do so. Does this mean that anytime and employer fails to hire someone or fires an employee for an unjust reason, there is no recourse? In a word: No. Despite the fact that the Golden State is an “at-will jurisdiction,” both Federal and State laws provide for remedies including a civil claim for unlawful termination of employment in certain instances. Principally, these include two categories as follows:
“Protected Class Discrimination”: In general, it is illegal under CA state and/or federal law to fail to hire someone, terminate someone’s employment or take any other “adverse employment action” (such as demotions, reductions in pay, and changing job duties) against an employee based upon their belonging to a protected classification of individuals. These “protected classes” include the following:
- Age (40 Years Old and Over)
- Ancestry and National Origin (including language use restrictions)
- Religion (including dress and religious practices)
- Physical or Mental Disabilities
- Certain Medical Conditions
- Genetic Information
- Military or Veteran Status
- Marital Status
- Gender, Gender Identity or Expression
- Sexual Orientation
“Protected Activity Retaliation”: As a general principle, employers are not allowed to fire an employee, demote a worker, reduce an employee’s pay or take other negative actions against persons in their employ for engaging in protected activities to enforce their legal rights. Examples include the following:
- “Whistleblowing” (i.e. an employee complaining to government officials about potentially illegal activity).
- Demanding Fair Treatment or Complaining About Discrimination Based Upon the “Protected Classes” Specified Above
- Taking A Medical Leave of Absence
- Requesting “Reasonable Accommodation” For A Physical or Mental Disability
- Demanding Wages Owed Including Overtime Pay
- Complaining About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
In addition, there are numerous other potential claims that an employee may have based upon contract terms of employment, specific state statutes (such as “Wage and Hour Orders”), and general tort law principles including Intentional or Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.
The Need for Quality Legal Advice and Representation For Employment Law Issues:
Because the above summary is not a complete or exhaustive list of potential claims and legal remedies and because there are complexities to the employment laws of the State of California, it is imperative to seek out quality legal advice. If you have been terminated from your job, suffered discrimination in the workplace, been paid unfairly, or have been retaliated against for exercising your legal rights, Steven M. Sweat, APC is here to help! Our team of attorneys has decades of experience representing employees who have been treated illegally by their employers. Call for a free consultation: (866) 252-0735 or in the Los Angeles area: (323) 944-0993.