The at-will doctrine in employment provides that either the employer or the employee can end the working relationship with or without cause. Employees, therefore, can be terminated for any reason. However, employers and companies that adhere with this employment approach must not terminate employees for any reason that is unlawful. Thus, an employer operating its business on an at-will state, like California, is not allowed to terminate an employee for reasons in which public policy is violated. When this happens, the terminated employee must be able to assert his or her rights, in which he or she must seek legal representation in order to claim damages from the employer that committed illegally terminated him or her.
Basically, employment termination in violation of public policy is one of the most common exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. Here, employers and companies that carry out this wrongful employment action disregard the firmly-established, fundamental, and substantial facets of certain public policies, which benefit the whole public. For example, an employer that terminates an employee because he or she filed a complaint about his or her employer’s discriminatory conduct is clearly a violation of public policy, since there are federal and state statutes that prohibit any form of discrimination in the workplace on account of one’s protected characteristic.
Most courts identify at least four types of situations in which public policy is violated during an employment termination. However, not all courts recognize any of each.
The wrongfully-terminated employee, meanwhile, must be able to file a lawsuit against the employer. The burden of proof, however, rests on him or her. In other words, he or she must show in the lawsuit certain elements that would emphasize that his or her employer wrongfully discharged him or her in violation of public policy. These include:
Meanwhile, employees who were terminated in violation of public policy in California should never take for granted what happened to them. In fact, they must be able to enforce their rights, and the best way to do so is to establish a lawsuit. But first, it is important that they seek legal representation from lawyers who specialize in wrongful termination lawsuits. That way, they may be afforded to pursue damages for the emotional suffering they suffered because of the termination.
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