Employees who have been wrongfully terminated from their jobs may be entitled to compensatory damages, including back pay on lost wages. They may even be able to get their job back by filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against their employer. Such a lawsuit typically alleges that an employee was fired or let go in violation of the law or an employment agreement. Wrongful termination claims can be challenging to prove. For this reason, many of these claims are resolved or settled out of court. The value of a wrongful termination settlement depends on a number of factors and could vary from case to case.
MOST WRONGFUL TERMINATION CASES ARE SETTLED
It is a fact that a vast majority of wrongful termination cases don't actually get to the courtroom. Most of these cases are settled before they go before a jury. Often, such a settlement is viewed as the ideal form of resolution in wrongful termination cases considering the potential nature of civil trials, which could be lengthy and unpredictable.
When it comes to the employee who has been fired, one of the main challenges is to convincingly demonstrate that the worker was terminated for illegal reasons such as his or her gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or because he or she was fired as retaliation for whistleblowing.
Employers often use the argument that they had valid reasons to terminate the employee such as poor performance or misconduct. It is important to note, however, that in some cases, employers have a reason to enter into a settlement because potentially damaging information about their company could come out as the wrongful termination case progresses.
WHAT IS WRONGFUL TERMINATION?
Wrongful termination is illegal termination of an employee. For wrongful termination to have occurred, an employer must have discharged an employee in a manner that violates contractual terms. For example, if an employee's contract clearly states that he or she cannot be terminated for not coming to work on time, but ends up being fired for that reason, the termination could be wrongful. Here are some of the most common scenarios that result in a wrongful termination claim:
- The employee “blew the whistle” on his or her employer. This means the employee reported the employer for illegal practices such as workplace discrimination, harassment or for safety violations in the workplace.
- The decision to terminate employment was discriminatory, which means it was based on an employee's race, gender, age, disability or religion.
- The employee was fired for exercising his or her legal rights in the workplace such as taking medical leave, maternity leave or serving time in the military.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF A WRONGFUL TERMINATION CLAIM?
The monetary value of a wrongful termination claim is based on a number of factors. Here are some of the most common factors that determine the value or worth of a wrongful termination claim.
Lost wages: As part of a wrongful termination claim, the employee can seek as damages the amount of wages lost from the date of termination until the present. A plaintiff in such cases has a duty to mitigate these damages by, for example, finding other employment. Any interim benefits such as unemployment benefits or income from a new job are deducted from the past wage total. In some cases, you may also be able to seek future wage loss, especially if you haven't been able to find a new job.
Lost benefits: When calculating lost earnings, it is important to take into account, the amount of benefits lost. For example, if a fired employee is forced to pay health insurance premiums, the employer may be held liable for these expenses. Other types of benefits lost might include childcare, loss of stock options, etc.
Emotional distress: When an employee is laid off or terminated from a job, he or she not only suffers financial consequences, but also emotional trauma. Individuals tend to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues as a result of their termination, and they can seek compensation for such emotional distress. Recovering compensation for emotional distress is much more likely in cases where the alleged actions by the employer were particularly egregious, most commonly in harassment and discrimination claims.
Punitive damages: These are damages an employer is ordered to pay for actions that are particularly outrageous. Unlike compensatory damages that are intended to reimburse plaintiffs for the losses they have suffered, punitive damages are intended to punish the employer and deter similar behavior in the future by others. Plaintiffs may have to satisfy a greater burden of proof in order to secure punitive damages. Often, the jury determines the amount of punitive damages.
Attorneys' fees: In some cases, you may also be entitled to include attorneys' fees. In most wrongful termination cases, your attorney will take the case on a contingency fee basis, which means your lawyer will be paid a percentage of your wrongful termination settlement.
JUSTICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
In addition to the money that you win as part of the wrongful termination settlement, you may also be able to get some sense of justice and vindication. Workers who have been fired due to harassment, discrimination or retaliation may see a successful settlement as providing validation and closure. As part of the settlement, some plaintiffs may also pursue changes in company policy so similar wrongs are prevented in the future.
Under California law, wrongful termination claims are subject to a two-year statute of limitations. This clock begins to tick at the time of the actual termination, not the time that employee gets notice of the termination. If you believe that you have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit, it would be in your best interest to pursue information right away and contact an experienced lawyer.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, it is important that you reach out to an experienced Orange County employment lawyer who has successfully handled wrongful termination cases in the past. Valuable advice from an experienced employment lawyer can help you avoid costly mistakes and guide you through what can be a complex process. Call our law offices for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.