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When does an employee have a wrongful termination claim?

Although California is an at-will state, it does not allow employers to fire an employee for illegal reasons. As an employee, you should recognize how wrongful termination can happen because it may have been the reason you lost your job.

Below are the circumstances in which an employee could have a wrongful termination claim.


Federal and state laws prevent employers from firing employees because of prejudice or bias. You might have a wrongful termination claim if you believe your employer fired you because of your:

  • Age
  • Disability or medical condition
  • Race, color or national origin
  • Religion or religious practices
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Political affiliation
  • Military affiliation

Discrimination violates an employee’s civil rights. You should never tolerate it, even from your boss.


Retaliation is when an employer acts adversely toward an employee for reporting hostile working conditions. An employee might have filed a complaint because they witnessed discrimination or sexual harassment in the office, or they were a victim of it. They may also file a complaint concerning unpaid wages and working overtime. It would be illegal for the employer to terminate to seek revenge because you participated in any protected activity, including reporting unlawful activity in the workplace.

Contract violation

You should always review your employment contract and handbook. Typically, these include termination clauses. If your employer terminated you in any manner that violated the terms and conditions of your agreement, you can file a lawsuit against them.

Public policy violation

A public policy violation occurs when an employer terminates an employee for exercising their legal rights or privilege. Your employer cannot fire you for taking time off to care for a family member. It is illegal under the Family and Medical Leave Act. They cannot fire you even if you have taken a temporary leave to serve in the military or on a jury or as a court-ordered witness. Furthermore, an employer cannot fire you for using the sick leaves the California law requires employers to provide. There are many other public policies that protect employees. You should understand what they are to use them to strengthen your case.


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