Corporations across California are adopting a policy to not tell terminated employees the reason for the firing. Often, the fired employee is left scratching their head asking, “Why did I get fired?” Is this a termination without cause? If this happened to you, can you file a lawsuit for wrongful termination? This blog will answer those questions.
What is a Termination Without Cause?
To understand what a termination without cause is, let’s first talk about a “termination with cause.” To do that, we must first unpack CA’s “at-will” employment doctrine. Many people have heard that California is an “at-will” employment state, but what does that mean? CA Labor Code § 2922 states:
An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other.
Basically, this means that your employer can fire you for any reason (so long as it’s not unlawful) and you can quit for any reason. So if your employer fires you for a stated reason, any reason at all, he has fired you for “cause.” In contrast, a termination without cause is where the employer fires you, but does not give you a reason.
This confuses people. Doesn’t a termination with cause mean that you engage in some sort of misconduct or illegal behavior? Not according to CA’s basic employment laws. It may mean something like that for unemployment, social security, or a public entity job, but not for wrongful termination from a corporation.
If You Get Fired and Your Boss Does Not Give You the Reason Why, Can You File a Lawsuit?
It depends. Yes, you can file a lawsuit if the real reason for your termination was an illegal reason. So even if your employer doesn’t tell you why you were fired, you can file a lawsuit if you believe and have proof that the motivating reason for your termination was something unlawful (more on this below).
But you shouldn’t file a lawsuit if you don’t suspect or have any proof that your employer fired you for an illegal reason.
Basically, the concepts of termination without cause and termination with cause mean nothing when it comes to why you were terminated. Termination without cause is irrelevant, it’s all about your employer’s motive.
Here is a good example – You may have a perfect employment record and be terminated because your boss truly didn’t think you were a good fit. There are no grounds for a lawsuit. Conversely, you may be the worst employee in the world, but if you’re fired because of an illegal reason, you may have strong grounds to file a lawsuit. We know it’s weird, but the law is clear.
What is an Illegal Reason?
There are many reasons that are illegal.
- Employers may not fire employees for reasons violating public policy. This is the foundational basis for a wrongful termination
- Corporations may not fire employees because they are a member of a protected category (race, religion, disability, sex, etc) in violation of CA’s powerful employment discrimination
- Companies may not terminate an employees because he or she blew the whistle. Review our whistleblower page for the details on what constitutes a whistleblower.
- Companies may not retaliate against employees for complaining about certain things.
It doesn’t just stop there! There are also provisions within the California Labor Code and California Health and Safety Code that protect employees. If you were terminated without cause, but strongly suspect that the real motive behind your firing was unlawful, you should contact a labor and employment lawyer to discuss your options.
If your firing counts as a termination without cause, and you think that any of the above situations apply to you, feel free to jump over to any of the pages for more specific information. But nothing on a website should ever be a substitute for live legal advice. We recommend that you contact an experienced Los Angeles employment attorney to discuss your case.