Getting fired by an employer can be a devastating experience. But much like an employee has the right to quit a job at any time for any reason, an employer also has the right to terminate an employee’s employment for any legal reason (with a couple of exceptions), under California’s at-will employment law.
However, a disgruntled employee may assert a claim against their employer, contending that their termination was based on illegal reasons. As an employer, it is important to have a defense strategy to fight these allegations to protect your company’s finances and reputation in the community.
Legal vs. illegal reasons for termination
If you have been sued for wrongful termination, your goal will be to establish that the employee in question was terminated for legitimate reasons. Generally, legitimate reasons for terminating an employee may include:
- Poor performance or lack of productivity
- Frequent absences or regular tardiness
- Unprofessional conduct
- Criminal behavior (e.g. theft, assault)
- Company layoffs
An employer may not terminate an employee for:
- Discriminatory reasons (termination based on employee’s gender, race, religion, age etc.)
- Taking their qualified medical leave, as permitted by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Reporting a workplace health hazard to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or being a whistleblower
- Refusing to commit an illegal act
Defending against wrongful termination action
Defending against wrongful termination action requires establishment of legitimate reasons for termination. Employers can present evidence to support their valid reasons for terminating the employee. This evidence may include:
- Emails, performance reviews, and other documentation showing that the employee was warned that they were not performing up to the company’s standards before they were terminated.
- Reports or complaints filed against the employee documenting the employee’s misconduct or violations of workplace policy.
- Warnings given to the employee about upcoming layoffs.
- Statements from other parties who witnessed the employee’s behavior and/or were present when the employee was terminated.
Wrongful termination suits can cause major problems for even the most successful companies. An employer defense attorney in your area can help build your case to protect you and your company from lawsuits filed by former employees.