Employees who have lost their jobs unexpectedly may file a legal action against a former employer over a wrongful termination. Although a firing may seem like a “wrongful” act to a terminated employee, many individuals could have a misconception regarding how the courts interpret a company’s actions.
California labor laws generally consider most employer-employee relationships as “at-will” associations. This means that either an employer or an employee could end the relationship at any time and for any reason.
As reported by HRMorning, a signed contract may protect an employee from a sudden and unexpected firing unless there is a valid reason for severing the employment arrangement. The terms of the contract must specify how the relationship could end without either party incurring penalties. A proven allegation of discrimination playing a role in a termination, however, may show that an employer committed an illegal act.
The path from discrimination to termination
When judges review allegations of a company’s wrongful firing, they may find that the underlying cause of a termination violated a federal labor law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from harassing or discriminating against a worker because of race, religion, national origin, color or gender. Amendments to the Act expanded discrimination to include protection against harassment because of disability, pregnancy or genetic makeup.
When an employee brings up the issue of discrimination to a supervisor or human resources manager, he or she may begin to experience subtle or overt on-the-job hostilities. This may include repeated jokes or offensive comments referencing an employee’s protected characteristics. The negative environment or experienced hostility could result in diminished performance and lead to termination.
Proof that workplace discrimination led to the firing
An employee filing a wrongful termination claim generally needs to show that the firing had a connection to an illegal action. An employer that engaged in discrimination, such as by promoting another employee based on age, race or gender, may have violated federal laws. Showing how an employer allowed a hostile work environment to continue unchecked may also help demonstrate a connection between discrimination and a firing.