Wrongful termination refers to a situation where a person has been fired when he/she should not have been. California is an “at will” state, meaning that an employer can fire someone for any reason (or no reason at all) as long as the termination is not based on an illegal reason. Illegal reasons include terminating one on the basis of protected categories such as race, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, and disability. One other example of illegal termination would be terminating an employee because of employee’s refusal to engage in an illegal activity. California law (Fair Employment and Housing Act) protects individuals from illegal discrimination by employers based on the following:*
- Race, color
- Ancestry, national origin
- Religion, creed
- Age (over 40)
- Disability, mental and physical
- Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity, gender expression
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Military or veteran status
*Source: California Department of Fair Housing and Employment
Employees are protected from unlawful retaliation under federal (Title VII) and California state law (FEHA). Unlawful retaliation refers to a situation where an employee is retaliated against for opposing unlawful conduct. Examples of retaliation include termination, demotion, suspension, reduction of hours, harassment, negative performance reviews, or similar adverse action by your employer.
WORKPLACE HARASSMENT/SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. The conduct must be unwelcome/not consented to. The unwelcome conduct must either be “severe” or “pervasive.” Sexual harassment generally falls into two categories:
1) quid pro quo and hostile environment – arises when the employer makes sex a prerequisite for the employee to get something in the workplace (for example, a promotion).
2) Hostile work environment – arises when an employer makes the person feel uncomfortable because of his/her sex, and the employer’s conduct is offensive.
Employees generally have broader protections under the law than independent contractors. For example, independent contractors are not entitled to protection against discrimination or benefits such as overtime pay, health insurance benefits, pension benefits, unemployment insurance, and social security credits like employees are. Because of this, some employers misclassify their employees and independent contractors. If you believe you have been wrongfully classified as an independent contractor, consult with an employment attorney.