California is an “at-will” employment state, which means that employers can terminate employees at any time for any reason — even if the reason is irrational or arbitrary. However, employers are prohibited from terminating or otherwise retaliating against employees if the reason for the action violates public policy.
In Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co., Judge Tobriner noted: “…when an employer’s discharge of an employee violates fundamental principles of public policy, the discharged employee may maintain a tort action and recover damages traditionally available in such actions.” Further, those fired for such reasons can collect unemployment benefits.
While most employees who are fired are eligible for unemployment, an employer may in some cases argue that the firing was related to the employee’s misconduct and he is therefore ineligible for benefits. This might include sexual harassment of another employee, for example.
Meanwhile, some employees may quit because their employer makes their workplace unbearable. They may discriminate against certain employees or retaliate against them. When an employee quits because of these conditions, it’s called constructive wrongful termination. California protects employees from this type of wrongful termination, and employees may still be eligible for unemployment benefits despite voluntarily quitting their employment.
For help disputing a denial of unemployment benefits, first speak with an attorney at Hiden, Rott & Oertle.
Examples of Violations of Public Policy
In order for a termination to be unlawful and a violation of employee protection laws, the public policy in question should be one that benefits the public at large (not just the employee or a small sector) and that is fundamental, substantial, and firmly established.
Below are some actions employers may take against employees that violate public policy.
- Retaliating against an employee because the employee refused to participate in illegal activities
- Retaliating because the employee requested his or her full wages
- Discriminating against an employee because of his or her age
- Retaliating because the employee took part in political activities outside of work
- Discrimination because the employee is disabled
- Discrimination based on a protected characteristic, such as the employee’s race, gender, gender identity, nationality or sexual orientation
- Retaliating because the worker reported unsafe conditions at work
These are just a few examples. Other circumstances may also violate public policy. If you’re unsure about whether your firing violated public policy, review the details with an attorney.
Proving Your Wrongful Termination Was in Violation of Public Policy
In order to prove your employment violated public policy, you and your attorney must be able to prove the following elements.
- A valid employer-employee relationship existed. (This includes full-time, part-time, and temporary employees and excludes independent contractors.)
- You were fired. If you resigned, you would not qualify to file a wrongful termination claim unless you can show that the employer made your working conditions so unbearable as to justify a resignation.
- The employer’s primary motivator for firing you was a reason that violated a public policy.
Free Consultation with an Employment Lawyer at Hiden, Rott & Oertle
If you believe your termination was in violation of a public policy, it’s advisable to review your legal options with a lawyer who is familiar with California employment law. That’s where Hiden, Rott & Oertle comes in. We aren’t afraid to take on a challenging case and can help you recover the unemployment benefits to which you are entitled. Contact us today at 619-296-5884 to discuss your case and get started.