Being in a work environment that is dissatisfying is not only unpleasant, it can also be illegal. If the employee takes a complaint to their superior about discriminatory comments from a co-worker or toxic and unfair treatment by a manager, retaliatory actions on the part of management are also against the law.
Of course, the ultimate retaliation is job termination, so if the individual can prove it, they can hold the other party liable. There are certain conditions for the firing that must be present for a claim to proceed, however. Fortunately for workers in Santa Barbara and throughout California, there are both state and federal laws that protect them when they make the decision to fight for their rights.
The legal standard for a wrongful termination claim
Like most states, California is an at-will state, meaning that without a contract or collective bargaining agreement, an employer can let a worker go with little notice, and the worker is also free to leave for any reason. Job termination is illegal under federal laws, however, when it occurs as a retaliatory action for a protected activity related to:
- Title VII violations, including discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, national origin, or genetic information
- Age discrimination
- Disability discrimination
Job termination also crosses a line at the state level under many circumstances, such as if an employee reaches out for enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, or for refusing to:
- engage in work-related fraud or illegal activity
- work overtime or excess hours for a legitimate reason
- use accrued sick leave
- sign a waiver denying their right to disclose information about workplace conditions
It is important to remember that there are strict deadlines for filing a complaint, which are within one year of the retaliatory act with the California Labor Commissioner, and 180 days with the EEOC.
Limits to job protections
Not every firing or layoff constitutes grounds for a lawsuit. If the worker has failed to meet job expectations as clearly defined by the employer, is insubordinate, has a high rate of absenteeism that exceeds the job’s sick leave allowances, or has engaged in illegal activity such as theft or selling trade secrets, any of these are legitimate grounds for termination. Wrongful termination claims can be challenging to prove, so it is essential to have concrete and convincing evidence of retaliatory action as part of the complaint.