Q&A with Marc McCulloch:
Interviewer: What is considered wrongful termination?
Marc McCulloch: There are quite a few misconceptions out there involving “wrongful termination” in the legal sense. California is an “at will” employment state – meaning an employer hires you at will and can terminate you at will. Unless you have an employment contract, an employer can pretty much fire you or lay you off for almost any reason at any time. They do not need to have a great reason to do it and they can even make a mistake in firing you. BUT, they can’t fire you or lay you off for an unlawful reason, as defined by California law – that would be “wrongful termination.” (California Government Code Section 12940 and/or California Labor Code Section 1102.5) Again, it must be unlawful. They do not have to fire you for a fair reason. There is a lot of unfairness in the workplace, but that is not necessarily wrongful termination. Some examples of wrongful termination would be situations where your employer fires you because you complained about not getting your proper wages, not getting your overtime, not getting your lawful meal breaks, not getting your lawful rest breaks. In those situations, you are complaining about employer behavior that is unlawful and you can’t be fired because you did – that would be a “wrongful termination.” Another example would be if you were terminated because your employer asked YOU TO DO something unlawful such as to cheat a customer, take money, or falsify some government reporting records. The activity your employer is asking you to perform is not lawful, and if they fire you because you refuse to do something unlawful, that is “wrongful termination.” There are other examples, but it is a fairly well-defined and finite area by law. It is also a challenging area in which to prosecute a claim, but we have done it and we have been successful.
Interviewer: How can an attorney help me in a wrongful termination case?
Marc McCulloch: First of all, the attorney must get the whole story from the employee who thinks they have been wrongfully terminated. Once the attorney has all of those facts, he or she can help the employee determine whether or not it was simply an unfair decision on the part of the employer or an unlawful wrongful termination. There is quite a bit of case law on wrongful termination, so there are all kinds of nuances. Only an experienced attorney can help an employee figure out whether or not they have a wrongful termination claim. Then, that attorney can properly construct a complaint and file a lawsuit. All of this has to be done with a great deal of care and attention to the facts of your particular case.
Interviewer: As you mentioned, California is an “at will” state, but I feel I have been wrongfully terminated. What can I do?
Marc McCulloch: Unless you know California employment law, it is doubtful that the employee lay person would be able to tell whether or not they had been wrongfully terminated. There is no question that there are grossly unfair practices and unfair treatment of employees. We hear it every day. However, an employer can make a mistake and fire you for the wrong reason (or even no reason) as long as it is not an unlawful reason. It is a very unfortunate situation, but you need an experienced attorney to analyze all of the facts and help you make a decision as to whether or not you have a wrongful termination claim or whether you were simply terminated by virtue of your “at will” employment. Don’t hesitate to call the Marcarian Law Firm and ask to speak to one of the attorneys. There is no charge for the initial consultation and, of course, everything you discuss with us is confidential. The important point to remember is not to wait too long, because the law limits the time in which you can start a lawsuit.