California is an at-will employment state, and this means that your employer will say that you can be terminated for any reason. However, the employer cannot interfere with one of your protected rights.
So, how do you know if your employer was on the right side of the law in terminating you, or if his or her doing so constituted retaliation or wrongful termination?
Exceptions to at-will employment
Wrongful termination may have occurred if your employer fired you and you were exempt from the at-will employment doctrine. There are exceptions to the at-will employment concept.
When the firing is retaliatory
It would be unlawful to fire because you: (1) used sick leave; (2) complained about harassment or discrimination or equal pay; (3) asked for an accommodation or medical leave; or (4) complained about or refused to work in unsafe condition. The same is true if you oppose or report conduct that would violate regulations and laws such as dumping chemicals in the trash, or ignoring patient safety, or committing bank fraud.
When you have an employment contract
Your employer may not lawfully terminate you if you have a written or implied contract in place with a specific duration, and you are still under the terms of the agreement. An “implied contract” refers to something your employer says or does that gives you a reason to believe he or she may not terminate you without good cause. This is rare, but such agreements still exist.
When it discriminates
Your employer also may not fire you for something that interferes with California’s public policy. For example, firing you because of your race, gender, religious preferences, or because you have a disability would be unlawful.