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Wrongful Termination: What Is & What It Isn't


Wrongful termination can be a hot topic in employment law because not as many people readily understand what it is. Many people might believe that “wrongful termination” is a self-evident term or that its meaning is easily discerned from the name of this issue alone.

For those unfamiliar with its legal definition, “wrongful termination” might sound like a lawsuit against an employer who fired an employee for an unfair reason. This is not necessarily an incorrect understanding of wrongful termination, but it misses important aspects of this topic.

All in all, it’s important to remember the following: a termination may be unfair, but that doesn’t always mean it’s wrongful termination.

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination typically refers to the firing of any employee for a reason prohibited by law.

Typically, this means firing an employee for a reason based on the employee’s real or perceived association with a protected class or participation in a protected workplace activity.

A few protected classes in California include the following:

  • Age (40 or older)
  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Religion (including religious dress and grooming practices)
  • Sex/gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and/ or related medical conditions)
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Disability status

Even though most employees in California are considered at-will employees, their employers may not terminate them for a reason prohibited by law.

Examples of Wrongful Termination

Unlawful reasons for terminating an employee are any that take the employee’s real or perceived association with a protected class into account.

For example, California law prohibits age discrimination for persons aged 40 or older; this means employees can’t be terminated because their employer thinks they’re “too old” for the job. Because disability discrimination is prohibited, an employer may not be within their rights to terminate employees with disabilities if reasonable accommodation can help them complete job duties.

Reporting sexual harassment or participating in a union are both legally protected workplace acitivites, so a firing based on these or another protected activity may also be wrongful termination.

What Isn’t Considered Wrongful Termination?

When an employee’s termination wasn’t based on an illegal reason, the employee may not have a wrongful termination claim. As previously stated, many terminations may feel unfair, but that doesn’t mean they were illegal.

Examples of unfair firings that may be completely legal include the following:

  • Your employer fired you because of a behavior or habit not associated with a disability
  • Your employer fired you because you couldn’t complete an unreasonable amount of work on an unreasonable timeline
  • Your employer fired you because challenged your supervisor’s judgment on an important issue
  • Your employer fired you on an unfounded belief about you, as long as that belief wasn’t related to a protected characteristic
  • Your employer fired you because they disliked your personality

As unfair and unreasonable as these reasons may seem to terminate an employee, employers may be well within their rights. Only terminations that violates an employee’s rights are those that may provide grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

K2 Employment Law is highly experienced in wrongful termination lawsuits and can provide straightforward legal advice to employees who have been wrongfully dismissed.

Our team of expired lawyers has a deep understanding of employment law and can work with you to help determine if your situation falls under the category of wrongful termination. We can assess the facts surrounding your dismissal, explain any applicable laws, and provide guidance on how to proceed with your case. We can also assist you in filing a complaint against your employer and represent you in court, if necessary.

Learn more during a free consultation – contact K2 Employment Law online now to get started.