What Can I Legally Be Fired For in California?

Getting fired from a job is one of the most unpleasant workplace experiences a person can endure, but, in some situations, it is also illegal for an employer to fire an employee. It is important to note at the outset that there are any number of situations in which a person can be legally fired in California. Depending on whether a contract was in place, an employee can be fired for job performance or simply because the employer cannot afford to pay the employee. That said, those situations cannot be “pretexts” (or fake reasons) when the actual reason for the firing was illegal. Putting this all together, it is easier to discuss when it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee, and thus wrongful termination. Below are a couple questions to think over with respect to your situation.

Was There a Contract In Place?

If you have an employment contract in place with your employer, then you should review the contract (with the help of an attorney) to determine whether it indicates whether certain conditions must be fulfilled prior to termination. In many cases, an employee can only be terminated “for cause.” This means the employer has to provide evidence showing that the employee failed to fulfill some required obligations of the job in order to legally fire the employee.

If Not, Was There an Implied Contract?

Even where there was not a written contract between you and your employer, you may be able to argue that there was an implied contract if the employer made promises to you in exchange for taking the job or staying on the job. For example, if your employer convinced you not to take a job offer elsewhere in exchange for two years of continued employment (but did not provide an agreement in writing), you may be able to successfully argue that your termination before those two years was up was illegal.

Were You Fired Based on Race, Gender, Nationality, Disability, Etc.?

One of the more common ways employers run afoul of state and federal employment laws is when an employee is fired based on some protected aspect of their identity, such as:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Nationality (e.g. if you are a permanent resident but not a citizen)
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy status
  • Disability (employers must provide reasonable accommodations to disabled workers)

An employer can also not provide an ulterior reason like job performance for your firing when the actual reason was one of the above illegal reasons. Determining what the actual reason was for your hiring can be challenging, but a good employment lawyer will track this down through discovery demands, cross-examination, and other means to hold the employer accountable.

Were You Fired as Retaliation For Exercising Your Rights or Raising Illegal Behavior?

You also cannot be fired for exercising your rights under the law such as taking required meal breaks, refusing to work unpaid overtime, or using mandated family leave time.

Finally, your employer cannot fire you as retaliation for raising the issue of illegal behavior on the job such as discrimination, wage/hour violations, sexual harassment, and other violations.