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What Are Illegal Firing Practices?

Asian man being fired

California is an at-will employment state. That means that employers can fire employees for almost any reason or no reason at all. There are many special exceptions to the general rule, however. California and federal law prohibit companies from firing employees for certain, enumerated reasons. Continue reading to learn about illegal firing practices in California. If you believe you’ve been fired unlawfully, call a dedicated Riverside wrongful termination lawyer for help.

Breach of Contract

Although California is generally an at-will state, the freedom to end an employment relationship at any time can be limited by contract. If employees and employers have an agreement that states the employee can only be fired for cause, for example, or must be retained for a certain period of time, then the parties are bound by that agreement. Terminating an employee in violation of a contract can lead to civil liability.

Unlawful Retaliation

Employers cannot terminate employees for unlawful reasons. One common unlawful firing practice is known as retaliation. Retaliation occurs when an employer fires an employee as punishment for some legally-protected action. Employers cannot terminate an employee for exercising legal rights such as the right to take protected medical leave, the right to request and obtain disability or religious accommodation, the right to file for and obtain workers’ compensation, or the right to attend jury duty. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against workers for “whistleblowing,” as discussed below.


Employers cannot terminate employees in response to the employee becoming involved with an investigation for alleged unlawful conduct. Unlawful conduct may include, for example, discrimination, wage and hour violations, sexual harassment, or criminal activity. Participating in an investigation includes reporting conduct to HR, responding to questions from HR or outside investigative agencies, filing a civil lawsuit, filing a report or claim with a governmental agency, or acting as a witness in another employee’s lawsuit or investigation. If an employee “blows the whistle” by reporting illegal conduct to a government investigator, the employer cannot turn around and fire the employee as a result.


Employers cannot terminate an employee based on that employee’s membership in a protected class. Protected classes of people are those that share a particular characteristic. Protected classes in California include classes based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sex, gender identity, color, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, marital status, citizenship status, pregnancy, age (over 40), disability, military or veteran status, and political affiliation.

Constructive Termination

Firing an employee is not the only grounds for a retaliation claim or even a wrongful termination claim. Employers may try to disguise retaliation by engaging in constructive termination, which refers to conduct that essentially prevents the employee from working or otherwise forces the employee to quit. Constructive termination may involve subjecting an employee to harassment or a hostile work environment, or when an employee is deprived of the staff or resources necessary to perform their job duties.

Public Policy Violation

There are other circumstances under which termination may be considered unlawful even though the termination was not explicitly identified by state law. In these circumstances, the plaintiff must show that there was a clear, fundamental public policy based on the law or the Constitution, that the policy benefits the public, and that the employee’s termination ran afoul of that public policy. These claims are rare and can be difficult to prove. One example of an established public policy basis for a wrongful termination claim would be an employee’s termination after refusal to commit a criminal act, such as perjury.

Call a Seasoned Labor Lawyer for Help Getting the Damages You Are Due After an Unlawful Firing

For help recovering compensation after a wrongful termination in Southern California, call Ochoa & Calderón to discuss your case with an experienced, effective California labor and employment attorney. Call 951-901-4444 in Riverside or 844-401-0750 toll-free throughout Southern California.

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