I guess the question is can wrongful termination for retaliation be considered in violation of public policy?
It really depends on the basis or motivation for the retaliation. Not all terminations that are retaliatory are actionable. Only those where the retaliation is based on engaging in legally protected conduct will qualify, and then only those where the legal protection is considered a fundamental public policy of the state will survive to be a meritorious cause of action.
For instance, an employee terminated for reporting a supervisor for sexual harassment in the workplace would be actionable because the reporting was legally protected (under FEHA) and the protections of employees from workplace sexual harassment has been determined to be a fundamental public policy of the state.
If that same employee, instead is fired for reporting to management that the supervisor was overstating his expenses and thereby cheating the company, although the motivation was retaliation, such reporting is not legally protected and it is not a fundamental public policy of the state to protect employees who report non-protected internal wrongdoing to the employer.
Good luck to you.
When people talk about “wrongful termination,” they are really talking about wrongful termination in violation of public policy. For a termination to be “wrongful,” it must violate a public policy.
Public policy refers only to things that are specifically prohibited by a statute (law) enacted by the legislature, or prohibited by a regulation promulgated (established) by a government agency. An employer cannot change terms of employment or fire you if the reason for the change is against the law. For example, an employer cannot increase your workload because of your race, sex, national origin, religion, etc., because you blew the whistle on safety violations, because sat for jury duty, or for any other reason that the law protects.
One of the most widely-known areas of public policy includes statutes prohibiting discrimination against people in specific protected groups, which include sex, race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age (40 years and older), religion, marital status and pregnancy.
In this context, “discrimination” means to treat differently from others who are not in the same protected group, but are similarly situated. “Discrimination” does not mean an employer has to be fair, or has to make good decisions.
In California, a person complaining of discrimination must file a claim with an administrative agency before he or she can file a lawsuit. The person can file a claim with either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing within on year of the discriminatory act, or with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the discriminatory act.
As mentioned above, public policy also protects people who blow the whistle on a matter of public concern, complain about improper wage and hour practices, or who exercise voting rights, family leave rights, jury duty rights, domestic violence rights, and a few more statutes. There are various ways to enforce these rights.
If you believe you have been fired or retaliated against in violation of public policy, I urge you to consult with one or more experienced employment law attorneys. To find a plaintiffs employment attorney in California, please go to the web site of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA). CELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the state for attorneys who represent working people. The web site is www.cela.org, and you can search for attorneys by location and practice area.
I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.
Both Ms. Spencer and Mr. Pederson have given you excellent answers. If, for example, you complained that your supervisor was doing a poor job, the employer could fire you without violating any law. If, however, you complained that your supervisor paid you less because of your sex, you could not be fired for that.
Of course, any complaint would have to be reasonably based for the law to protect it.
Good luck with your legal matter.
Craig T. Byrnes