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What Are Some Illegal Causes for Termination?

Wrongful Termination

Employment in California follows the at-will doctrine, which states that an employer may fire an employee for any reason at any time, or no reason at all, unless the reason violates federal or state employment laws. If you’ve been fired or laid off for one of these prohibited reasons, you may have a wrongful termination claim against the employer. Keep reading to find out more about illegal causes for termination of employment in California.

What Are Common Causes of Illegal Termination?

Some examples of illegal termination include:


It is illegal to fire an employee in California based on race, gender, religion, nationality, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, military or veteran status, or age if the person is over 40. It’s also illegal to fire someone because they are pregnant, because they have a disability, if they are a legal immigrant, or for their political beliefs.

Employees in California are protected from discrimination by state and federal laws. The employer must provide a safe working environment for all employees, regardless of which of the protected classes they belong to.

Employment Contracts

An employment contract can protect employees from illegal firings if it contains language that specifically stipulates under what conditions you can be fired. Contracts can be verbal or written and can be as simple as a written handbook that states employees can only be fired for good cause.

If the employment contract specifically states the time period that an employee will work but does not list specific causes for termination, then the employee can generally only be fired for legitimate reasons, such as if the employee willfully breaches their duties, they are habitually neglectful of their duties, or they are unable to perform their duties.

Also, union workers in California are considered to be working under employment contracts, and as such, can only be terminated for reasons specified in the union contract.


It is illegal to fire an employee in retaliation for a protected activity, such as reporting unlawful activities at work, acting as a witness or participating in a workplace investigation, or filing an EEOC complaint, among many others. Any activity that concerns enforcing your rights as an employee is considered protected. Filing an OSHA complaint, filing a worker’s compensation claim, discussing wages, complaining about harassment, and discussing poor working conditions are all protected activities.

Violation of Public Policy

Public policy claims are similar to retaliation claims, but they need not be covered by a specific law or statute. They are designed to protect employees from being fired for a reason that is not against any law but still violates a basic ethical policy. A good example would be an employer firing an employee for refusing to commit an illegal act on the job, such as signing a fraudulent contract.

How Do I Protect My Rights If I’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated?

If you think you may have been illegally terminated, it’s imperative to contact an employment law attorney as soon as possible. A wrongful termination claim can be filed to obtain compensation, but you’ll need to prove that the reason for your termination was illegal under state or federal law. If possible, gather documentation to support your claim, such as performance reviews, contracts, or written records of meetings and conversations. This information can be invaluable in building a claim for wrongful termination.

How a California Employment Law Attorney Can Help

If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated, the California employment law attorneys at Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP, can help. We have experience in wrongful termination claims and can help you pursue compensation for damages such as lost wages, emotional distress, or potentially even punitive damages. Call 951-686-4800 today for a free case evaluation, and let us put our knowledge and experience to work for you.

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