You cannot be fired for refusing to commit an illegal act

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Posted by Legal Team On April 24, 2016

You may be familiar with the concept of whistleblowing. That is, informing the authorities of illegal acts your employer is engaging in. You may also know that it is illegal for your employer to fire you for whistleblowing. However, did you also know that it is illegal for your employer to fire you for refusing to be complicit in illegal actions? Even if you are not a whistleblower, your employer cannot fire you for refusing to participate.

Consider the following: your supervisor is embezzling from the company and in order to cover his tracks, he asks you to store some of the ill-gotten gains in your personal bank account. Your supervisor may even offer to let you keep a percentage if you comply. Knowing that such embezzlement is illegal, you refuse, but out of fear for your job, you promise your supervisor that you will not tell anyone about the embezzlement. You keep your word and never tell anyone, but your supervisor still fires you out of fear that you will expose the secret.

In the above situation, you did not blow the whistle on your supervisor and expose the illegal activity, but you were fired. You may think that, because it was not in response to whistleblowing, the termination was not wrongful, but this is not true. Termination is still considered wrongful if it is related to your refusal to carry out illegal activities.

Of course, retaliation and illegal activities are not the only circumstances under which an employee could be wrongfully terminated. Keep in mind that California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that your employer can fire you at any time for any reason, but that reason cannot be illegal. Our web page can provide you with more information on what constitutes an illegal termination. If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, we may be able to help you bring a case against your employer and be compensated for the trouble and even get your job back.