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Protected Characteristic
Protected Activity

Wrongful Termination Law in California

In California, almost all companies hire workers under the employment at-will doctrine.

The employment at-will doctrine allows 
companies to fire their employees at any time for any reason without legal repercussions.

However, there are limits to this doctrine.

Specifically, employers cannot fire employees for any reason that violates California’s public policy. If an employer does fire an employee for any reason that violates California’s public policy, the termination becomes “wrongful.”


There are two key sets of public policy in California:

  1. Protected characteristics: It is unlawful for an employer to terminate a worker because of their race, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability, or any other trait listed below.

  2. Protected activities: It is also unlawful for a company to discharge an employee for engaging in any of the protected actions listed below

Protected Characteristics

In employment law, a protected characteristic is a trait that can not be the basis for terminating an employee. Traits include:

  • race 

  • religion 

  • color

  • national or ethnic origin

  • ancestry 

  • age (if 40 or over)

  • physical or mental disability

  • medical condition 

  • marital status

  • sexual orientation

  • gender

  • pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions of any female employee 

Protected Activities
A company cannot fire an employee for taking any of the actions listed below. There are many more protected activities that fall under wrongful termination. These are some of the most commonly violated:

  • Taking family or medical leave.

  • Requesting equal pay.

  • Discussing wages with coworkers.

  • Political activity outside of work, political speech in particular.

  • Protesting unsafe working conditions.

  • Whistle-blowing (disclosing an employer’s violation of state or federal regulations to a governmental agency). 

  • Refusing to sign a non-compete agreement.

  • Requesting prompt payment of earned wages.

  • Refusing to sign documents releasing the employer from liability for intentional acts.

  • Taking time off (after reasonable advanced notice) to testify at a hearing.


What is Pretext in a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?

Wrongful terminations are typically covered up with a “pretext”.

A pretext is a phony excuse used by the employer to fire an employee.

Common pretexts include: "poor performance,” "the employee doesn't fit in”, “restructuring,” or “financial reasons”.


For example, an employer might say you are being fired because of budget cuts, but in fact, you are being fired for requesting a disability accommodation.

In order to win a wrongful termination lawsuit, the worker must show that a pretext (or false excuse) was the primary motive for termination.

It's all about what the employer said versus the real reason for the firing.

Free Wrongful Termination Claims Review

Successfully demonstrating pretext can be extremely complicated and fact-intensive, and it's only one part of the overall equation.

In order to prevail in a wrongful termination lawsuit, you'll want an experienced and dedicated lawyer by your side each step of the way.

If you believe you have been a victim of wrongful termination, please schedule an appointment today for a 100% free consultation. Reyes & Associates serves clients all throughout Southern California.

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