With so much uncertainty in the economy and in the job market today, it’s rare that employees take their employment status for granted. No one wants to be put out of work, but it surprises many to learn that the California Labor Code allows employers to fire employees “at will.” This means that no reason for terminating an employee is required.
There are other laws that take precedence over this, however. Employers cannot fire anyone based on the following:
The employee is older than 40 years, has a medical condition or is disabled, or due to knowledge about the employee’s genetics
The employee’s sexual orientation or gender
The employee’s national origin, religion or race
The employee is pregnant
The employee is engaged in political activities outside the workplace or union organizing within it
Most of these rules apply to companies with four or more employees, with greater restrictions to termination applying to companies with more employees. If an employer fires an employee for one of these improper reasons, it is technically a “wrongful termination.” In a related vein, if an employer routinely promotes a certain class of employee over others, it is regarded as “disparate treatment,” which can have a “disparate impact” on whole groups of employees who are negatively affected by these discriminatory practices.
When these acts of employment discrimination can be documented, the affected employee can sue for lost compensation and emotional distress, as well as attorney fees and other litigation costs. In particularly egregious cases, the court may decide that the employer must pay a punitive award for its actions.