California's "at will" employment stance means that employers can fire employees at any time they please and for any reason that isn't considered unlawful. This is an important distinction to make; being fired for an unfair reason is different than being fired for an unlawful reason. You may find your firing unfair, but if it wasn't illegal, you won't be able to mount much of a case.
So what makes a firing illegal? There are a range of reasons:
- If your employer breached of the employment contract.
- If you refused to participate in an illegal activity and were fired.
- If your firing was the result of discrimination.
- If you were retaliated against by your employer.
The last reason, retaliation, happened to a sheriff's deputy recently and he was awarded a judgment of $650,000 as a result. The sheriff's deputy was fired back in 2008 and he claimed his employer, the sheriff, fired him because he was worried that he might run for sheriff one day (and thus be competition). The sheriff's deputy filed a complaint in 2012, claiming he was fired for political reasons and that he was retaliated against because of an injury he suffered on the job. The courts sided with him, ordering the sheriff and the county to pay $650,000 in damages.
If you feel you've been the victim of a wrongful termination, it may be in your best interest to speak with an attorney. An attorney might be able to help you file a suit to recover compensation.
Source: chicagotribune.com, "Kane County approves $650,000 settlement in wrongful termination suit," Hannah Leone, December 19, 2016