Getting dismissed or wrongfully terminated from your job can produce a substantial financial strain on your life. However, if you believe that the reason you were fired was not legal, you may be entitled to compensation.
California law allows workers who were fired for illegal or unlawful reasons to file a complaint about wrongful termination. Upon succeeding in a wrongful termination suit, you may be able to recover the compensation that relieves some of the financial strain of losing your job. You may even be entitled to reinstatement in your old job.
Although, you must act quickly. For most claims in California, you need to file a lawsuit or administrative complaint with a regulatory agency within a limited time period. Depending on the specifics of your case, this may be between 6 months to 3 years of your termination, at the latest.
Below, we will discuss five steps to take if you are wrongfully terminated from your job to preserve any legal claims you may have against your former employer.
#1: First, calm down
Do not express unnecessary anger or resentment; even if you feel bitter, desperate, and angry, try to stay calm and be positive. You may be in for a long fight and you will need to ensure you are calm and focused on recovering what you deserve.
Additionally, try not to make rash decisions like sending a rude email to your former employer or being uncivil. It is absolutely important that you also resist the urge to retaliate or “get back” at your employer by breaking workplace property, stealing things, or publicly harassing supervisors at your workplace. Apart from the fact that these may lead to civil or criminal lawsuits against you, such actions will hurt your case and make it difficult to collect damages.
You must remember that none of these actions will help reverse your employer’s decision. As such, there’s no point in making a scene about it. The most important thing you need to focus on, and which an experienced California employment attorney will help with, is enforcing your employment rights in court.
#2: Take a look at what happened: Seek an explanation from the company
Understanding exactly why you were fired and the circumstances contributing to your termination should come next. Often, when a termination occurs, your boss or supervisors may give a face value reason for firing you. However, there may be deeper, and often illegal, reasons which you do not know but may suspect.
California law expressly prohibits firing an employee for reasons that bother on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or breach of contract. Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 336. It is also illegal to fire an employee for reasons that violate public policy or express provisions of state or federal statutes, such as the Labor Code. Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (1980) 27 Cal.3d 167, 170.
If you were fired for any of these reasons, or others which a California wrongful termination attorney can explain, you may be entitled to sue. This is why you should take the time to find out the true reasons why you were fired.
Finding this out may be as simple as asking the company why they fired you or getting in touch with the person who signed the termination letter. It would be more useful if you could get your personnel file to assess if they had issued a warning before. Everything you collect from them will help you determine whether your termination was reasonable or not.
You should not stop there though. If there are circumstances you are aware of that may have contributed to your wrongful termination, you should pay special attention to those. You should set a timeline of events and document everything, including when it happened and who was involved before you were fired. You know the exact dates and times, the names of those involved, and why you think they supported your dismissal.
#3: Start collecting your evidence
The success of any wrongful termination lawsuit depends on how much evidence is presented. If you have followed step 2 properly, you most likely already have reasons for believing your termination was illegal. With that in mind, gather as much evidence as possible to maximize the success of your case.
The focus on evidence here is simple. Wrongful termination cases are often a question of statements of fact between employer and employee. Often, the employer is asserting a legal reason for your termination, while you are alleging another. What makes your story believable is the quality of evidence you can provide. Eisenberg v. Alameda Newspapers, Inc. (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1359, 1386.
You should look for evidence that you feel might support your allegations. You can use all the emails, text messages, voicemail messages, and photos at your disposal. If there were any eyewitnesses to crucial incidents, like a sexual overture from your employer, you should contact them as well. Eyewitness reports can lend authenticity to your case, especially when supported by written evidence.
As soon as you’re able to, you should also start writing out your own version of events, including as many details as possible leading up to your wrongful termination. Include everything you can remember – dates, people’s names, where crucial events happened and the sequence in which they happened. It is generally advisable that you begin writing your account within a couple of days of being fired. This is because memory tends to fade over time.
#4: File a complaint with the appropriate regulatory agency
There are various types of employment law complaints that may be filed and these may be entertained by several agencies. Some of the common claims and agencies where you can file include:
- Discrimination, retaliation or harassment: Claims here are commonly filed with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The EEOC administers federal law relating to discrimination, retaliation and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act. The DFEH administers California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
- Unsafe workplace complaints: If you were terminated after raising a complaint about unsafe work practices, you may file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The California equivalent is the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).
- Whistleblower complaints: For termination resulting from protected activity under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, you may file a complaint with the US Department of Labor.
- Equal pay complaints: If you were terminated for raising concerns under the Equal Pay Act, you can file a complaint with the EEOC, for claims under the federal Act. Or you may file with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office for claims under the California Equal Pay Act.
These agencies are broadly empowered to investigate the circumstances of your complaint and impose administrative penalties where necessary. They may also try to help you reach a settlement with your employer or file a court action against them.
Often, you may choose to file with either of these agencies, regardless of the specific law, you are claiming relief under. For instance, in the case of the EEOC and DFEH, you can file a discrimination, retaliation, or harassment complaint with either agency.
Your California employment lawyer will explain how these options factor into your case and which provides the best course to compensation.
#5: Finally, let your attorney file a lawsuit
In many cases, individuals go on to file a lawsuit either because the regulatory agency was unable to reach a settlement or they choose to file a lawsuit first. In either case, your attorney will be there to explain what the process of filing an employment lawsuit is like and what you can expect.
An experienced employment lawyer will go through the details of your case and tell you whether you have a solid case or not. They will also advise you on whether it would be a good idea to talk about a settlement rather than suing your former employer. Settling the case may allow you to move on from the termination and continue with your life. However, the trade-off is you will be unable to sue your employer on the same facts at a later date.
Depending on your circumstances, you may stand to benefit more from taking the case to trial. In such cases, the court may award compensation comprising of back pay and benefits you would have been paid if you were not terminated. You may also be entitled to reinstatement in your former job if you are interested in continuing with the employer.
It is important to keep in mind that you have several options available to you and you may enforce your rights by any one of these. Do not take your employer’s explanations for your termination at face value, especially if you have suspicions of irregularity. If something does not feel right to you, contact an employment attorney immediately.
Reach out to Eldessouky Law
You can consult with an experienced employment lawyer in California by calling Eldessouky Law today. The initial consultation will cost you nothing, and everything you share with us will be kept in strict confidence.