What is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful Termination or Wrongful Discharge, simply put, is when an employee is terminated for an illegal reason. An employee can be wrongfully terminated based on their status of employment.
Employment Contract vs. an Employee-at-Will
A person who has an employment contract with their employer for a specified period of time has a right to employment for the specified period of time, unless other factors (such as the existence of "good cause") play in. If an employee is terminated before the expiration of their specified period, than they may have a cause for action against their employer for breaching their employment contract.
If an employee does not have an employment contract with their employer for a specified period of time, than in California, as in most states in the US, they are employees-at-will. An employee-at-will can be terminated from employment at any time, whether with or without cause. However, that does not mean that employees are completely unprotected from termination. Title VII law (based on protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) protects against employee discrimination (including termination) based on sex, race, national origin, disability, and other such characteristics. To learn more about employee discrimination, click HERE for more information.
Actual Termination vs. Constructive Discharge
The employer does not necessarily have to actually terminate the employee for wrongful termination to apply. An employer's conduct may be have the legal significance of terminating an employee. When an employer causes working conditions to become so intolerable and an employee resigns in response, the employee's resignation may be treated as termination, also known as constructive discharge.