What does at-will employment mean?
When a person is terminated from employment, they often consider suing their ex-employer for wrongful termination. Suing an employer for wrongful termination is challenging because 49 states in the U.S. have an at-will employment law.
The term at-will employment states an individual can have their employment terminated at any time for any legal reason. It also states an individual may quit their job for any reason whenever they wish.
Exceptions to the Rule
Currently, the only state that does not have an at-will law is Montana. An employer in Montana can terminate an employee for any legal reason during a set probationary period. After this probationary period, they require a probable cause.
Employers in the rest of the country can fire employees for any reason they determine. However, employers may not fire employees in the case the termination violates their civil rights.
Employers cannot terminate an employee because of their race, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or veteran status. Terminating an employee for one of these reasons would violate the Civil Rights Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act.
An employer also cannot fire employees for retaliatory purposes. If an employee has reported an employer to the authorities for illegal practices, the employer is not legally allowed to terminate or demote the employee as a punishment. A company cannot fire an employee for filing a lawsuit against it or for testifying as a witness against it in court.
However, employers will not admit if they have terminated an employee for an illegal reason. If you want to prove discrimination against an employer, collect evidence. Evidence of discrimination may include:
- Job performance records.
- Records of awards and promotions.
- Documents of complaints.
- Statements from witnesses.
If you have any emails or instant messages implying discrimination,collect and save them. If you are ever excluded from a meeting or not told about an opportunity for a promotion, that may be considered discrimination.
Evidence of Damages
Being treated with prejudice can affect you financially, emotionally, and physically. If you have suffered damages because of wrongful termination, be sure to document all damages.
If you require treatment from a mental health professional for trauma caused by an employer, the associated bills should also be documented. You should also get a letter from them detailing the treatment you received as well as documentation of your progress.
Always document any bills you were unable to pay due to your termination. If you could not obtain the medication you needed because you lost health insurance, document that fact as well.
The Process of Filing a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
Before you file a lawsuit, you should ensure you are an official employee of the company. If you work through a temporary agency, you would be considered an employee of the temporary agency. If you work as an independent contractor, you would be considered self-employed.
Filing a wrongful termination lawsuit is required within three years from the day you were terminated. These statute limitations are strictly enforced in California.
You should always document a timeline of your employment with the company. Try to pinpoint when you first felt you were being discriminated against. If there was a triggering incident, you document the incident in as much detail as possible.
When you have your documentation in order, file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment. The DFHE will investigate the claim. If they decide to not proceed in taking action against the employer, then you are able to file a lawsuit against your employer.
You can also file a complaint via the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission office. They can investigate your claim and issue you a right to sue letter as well.
Most regulatory agencies will ask you to participate in mediation and negotiation before you file a lawsuit. Mediation will often result in a settlement, so court proceedings can be avoided.
Hire a Lawyer
If the EEOC or DFHE authorizes your lawsuit, you should contact a lawyer. Be sure to find an attorney with training in employment law, and has experience practicing law in California.They should have an excellent reputation with the California State Bar Association.
You work hard for your money. You should never be terminated for an arbitrary reason. If you have experienced wrongful termination, it is essential to discuss a lawsuit with an attorney.