Termination of employment is deemed wrongful even in the absence of a contract when a de facto contract exists as a result of the relationship between employee and employer, as when employee rights and employer obligations are provided to the employee in the form of explicit company guidelines or an employee handbook. Additionally, wrongful termination exists under the following circumstances:
Under California law, the “at will” relationship is considered to be modified either explicitly or implicitly when an employer provides employment guidelines or employee handbooks that outline the terms of their employment, or which describe or suggest to employees the terms under which they can be disciplined or terminated. In such cases, the employer may be required to establish a “good cause” whereby dismissal is justified prior to terminating employment.
California law defines “good cause” as “fair and honest reasons, regulated by good faith on the part of the employer, that are not trivial, arbitrary, or capricious, unrelated to business needs or goals, or pretextual. A reasoned conclusion, in short, supported by substantial evidence gathered through an adequate investigation that includes notice of the claimed misconduct and a chance for the employee to respond.”
Wrongful termination cases are fact driven and an employee filing a wrongful termination complaint or suit against an employer must therefore prove the dismissal violated their contract, company policy, or federal or state laws. It is crucial that employees keep copies of any correspondence, phone and conversation logs providing evidence of verbal communication, performance evaluations, written warnings or other proof of disciplinary action, and employee handbooks.
Wrongfully terminated employees in California can only sue their employer; under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, management, other employees, or the board of directors cannot be sued. Employees can be compensated for damages including lost wages and benefits; if discrimination or retaliation has been proved, employees can be awarded punitive damages, as well as recover damages for emotional distress and attorney fees.