Man looking over papers


Steven E. Springer Feb. 26, 2016

It can be argued that money is what makes life possible. Money is required to pay the bills, buy groceries, and seek medical assistance. For the majority of the population, employment is required in order to earn income to have the ability to pay for these expenses, as well as many other necessities. For many, if that income is suddenly stopped, their families would not be able to survive past the final paycheck. Most of the time, the employee sees the finale coming. This situation generally involves several warnings and a paper trail of improvement meetings. Yet, for others, it is a total blindside and can lead them to believe that it was a wrongful termination.


California is an “at will” employment state. This means that at any given time, an employee or an employer can terminate an employment contract. There does not necessarily need to be a reason. However, an employee cannot be terminated, i.e. fired, under certain circumstances. These include:

  • Discriminatory reasons;

  • In violation of the employment contract;  or

  • Exercising federally protected rights.

If an employee can prove that their employment was terminated due to any of these, there may be a wrongful termination defense.


There are several federally protected groups. It is illegal to terminate any individual in these groups based solely on their identifiers. These groups are:

  • Race;

  • Sex;

  • National origin;

  • Religious affiliation;

  • Disability;

  • Sexual orientation;

  • Marital status;

  • Pregnancy;

  • Weight and/or height;

  • Age; and

  • Gender identity or expression.

If a company has at least 15 employees, the laws apply to them, except for age discrimination which requires a minimum of 20 employees. If they have less than the required amount, a pattern of discrimination may not be obviously apparent. It is also advised to bring the matter up with your human resources officer. The company is not able to retaliate for such a complaint. You will also need to file a report with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This department enforces federally mandated rights. This all must be done before pursuing a wrongful termination lawsuit.


Many employers have compiled an employee handbook, a job description of what each position is responsible for. An employer may outline what the company is willing to offer to you and what they require from you. There are likely to be dress code and employee conduct expectations. There potentially could be a list of benefits they are willing to offer, or not offer. They may give an explanation of pay benefits. If any of this is written, stated verbally, or implied, you may not be subject to the “at will” clause. If an employer leads you to believe that you will not be fired or penalized for a certain amount of time unless you break a certain set of rules or perform up to standard and yet you find yourself unemployed, even if they explicitly stated you would not be, that is considered illegal and a breach of employee contract.


There are many state and federally protected rights that you are entitled to, and these rights may not be infringed upon. These rights may include, but are not limited to:

  • Time off of work to perform a civic duty (for example: attending jury duty, voting or joining the military);

  • Make at least minimum wage;

  • Overtime pay, if worked;

  • 30-minute unpaid meal break for working more than five hours; 

  • A paid ten minute break every four hours;

  • Family and medical leave;

  • Pregnancy disability leave for up to four months; and

  • Military spouse leave if active duty spouse is home for a leave from an active deployment.

If you feel like you have been wrongfully terminated, you may seek restitution for your losses and compensation for the damages caused. This may be true even if it is a mixed reasoning termination, and an impermissible motive was the driving factor. In a case such as this, when your livelihood is at stake, you should contact an experienced Alameda County employment law attorney. If you are in the Morgan Hill, San Jose, or Fremont CA area, call the Law Offices of Steven E. Springer at 408-779-4700 today.