Here are five very common misconceptions that many employees have about California employment law, including discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination laws:
- “If I file EEOC of DFEH charge, my employer cannot terminate me.” – This is not correct. Your filing of a charge with one of the agencies might or might not be a protected activity depending on, among other things, whether you have a good faith, reasonable belief that you are being discriminated or retaliated against. However, the employer can still choose to terminated you, if they want to, and then deal with any type of legal consequences of that termination if you decide to pursue a claim against them. In other words, submitting a discrimination or retaliation complaint does not grant you immunity against termination.
- “EEOC / DFEH will be fighting for my rights.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Fair Employment and Housing receive thousands of complaints every year. They have limited resources and they have to pick very few cases which they would look closely into and pursue. With regard to the vast majority of cases, they close their files and issue a right to sue letter to the complainants, informing them that they can hire a private attorney and proceed with their case in court, if they wish. Thus, you should not be expecting those agencies to pursue a case against your employer.
- “Being older / black / gay / disabled and being fired is sufficient to prove a discrimination or retaliation case.” This is not correct. Just because you are of a certain race or religion or sexual orientation and you have been fired, doesn’t mean that that was the reason for your termination. There has to be some evidence that the reason for your termination was, in fact, discriminatory and not some other, unrelated reason, whether fair or unfair. Otherwise, everyone would have had a case against their employer for being terminated, because we all belong to some protected class – we are all of a certain gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc.
- “My boss is treating badly, and therefore I have a harassment claim / hostile work environment claim against him.” Legally, making a harassment claim or hostile work environment claim requires showing that (1) you are treated so badly that it significantly alters your working conditions; and (2) the reason for that bad treatment is discriminatory. It’s not against the law to yell at an employee, to micromanage them, to not be fair to them, to stress them out with too much work or micromanaging. It’s only against the law to treat them badly because they belong to a protected class.
- “I have been unfairly terminated and therefore I have a valid wrongful termination case against my employer.” – The term “wrongful” is a misnomer as it doesn’t really provide the correct idea of what being wrongfully terminated means under the law. The reality is that terminating an at-will employee is only wrongful under the law if it can be proven that the real reason for termination is discrimination or retaliation. In other words, being terminated unfairly is not against the law, unless there specific evidence that the true reason for termination is your being a member of a protected class (age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, familial status, etc.), or because you engaged in a protected activity (complaining about discrimination, harassment, safety violations, fraud or embezzlement or other criminal violations, patient / staff ratio, etc.).