Individuals that are employed in the state of California should understand that the state is an at-will employment state. Employees may find themselves wondering what this means. In an at-will employment state, an employee can be terminated at any time for any reason. However, there is an exception to this standard. The reason cannot be illegal. If the reason for which an employee is fired is illegal, then it qualifies as wrongful termination.
One illegal basis for termination is discrimination. For example, if a woman is fired because she is pregnant, that is discriminatory and therefore illegal. Although this seems obvious, it is still relatively common for employers to fire women due to their pregnancy. A recent case that is unfolding in California arose because of a woman's belief that her employer wrongfully terminated her because she was pregnant.
The woman was an employee at Walgreens at the time of her termination. However, prior to her termination she had witnessed the termination of another woman. Her employer claimed that the other woman had drank a smoothie and not paid for it. When approached regarding the incident the woman claimed she had tried the smoothie and it tasted bad so she dumped it out. However, the employer made her sign an admission that she had stolen the smoothie to ensure the maintenance of her employment. Unfortunately, the woman was fired immediately after.
The woman that allegedly stole the smoothie was pregnant. Therefore, when the woman in this case became pregnant she was afraid to tell her employer. However, at six months she disclosed her pregnancy. Shortly thereafter her employer accused her of taking drugs and tried to get her to sign a sheet stating that she was taking drugs. When she refused she was suspended. She was later terminated. According to the former employer, she was terminated because she created a hostile work environment. The woman immediately found an attorney and filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit.
There is often times a fine line between wrongful discharge and at-will allowable termination. Therefore, it can sometimes be beneficial to consult an attorney who is familiar with this area of law and can help an individual understand what their rights are in a similar situation.
Source: Lawyers and Settlements, "California Labor Attorney: Pregnancy Discrimination Not Rare," Heidi Turner, June 18, 2014