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Can there be a wrongful termination claim in at-will employment?

According to California's Labor Code, employment is presumed to be at-will if the employer and employee did not sign an employment contract that specifies the duration of the employment. This means that the employee may be discharged at any time, with or without cause. However, some workers may not be aware that many different circumstances under which employment is terminated can constitute viable wrongful termination lawsuits.

Whether employment is at-will or by employment contract, employers may not violate any of the several laws that protect workers. The most obvious violation would be to terminate employment prior to the expiry date as agreed upon in an employment contract. Also, employees may not be exposed to discrimination, and this may also not be the reason for ending someone’s employment. Discrimination can take on many forms, including color, race, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, disability and age.

Wrongful termination lawsuits may follow retaliation by employers — especially when employees report illegal activities or unsafe work environments. It is also not uncommon for workers to lose their jobs for taking the time off to which they are entitled or have a legal right. The Family and Medical Leave Act is often violated by employers who terminate employees for claiming this type of leave.

California workers who are unsure about the meaning of wrongful termination or what steps to take if they are victims of such treatment, may gain the necessary knowledge by discussing the issue with an experienced employment law attorney. Along with explaining their rights, a lawyer can also prepare employees for what will follow if legal action is taken. A knowledgeable attorney can navigate a lawsuit on behalf of a victim by pursuing restitution for losses suffered as the result of wrongful termination.