The term “wrongful termination” is one of the most misunderstood legal terms among workers. “Wrongful” doesn’t mean hurtful or unfair; it means illegal. If you are an at-will employee, you can be terminated for any reason, no reason or arbitrary reason. Thus, being terminated on the basis of false accusations of misconduct or violation of employer’s policies, or due to work overload, or due to unfair and unjustified poor performance reviews is not against the law.
The only time when your termination is illegal or “wrongful” is when the reason or one of the reasons for your termination is discrimination based on being a member of protected class (i.e. race, disability, religion, familial status, sexual orientation, gender, age) or retaliation for engaging in a protected activity (filing a harassment/discrimination complaint, complaining or protesting safety violations at workplace, reporting fraud, insider trading, embezzlement or other crimes, etc.) There is a number of other California and Federal laws that specifically prohibit retaliating against an employee for engaging in certain activities and exercising rights.
While direct evidence of discrimination or retaliation is rarely available for obvious reasons, as very few employers are going to trip themselves up by openly admitting to discriminating or retaliating against their worker, there is a number of indirect ways in which both discrimination and retaliation can be proven. Some of the most common ways to prove discriminatory or retaliatory motive in termination is the timing of termination, the employer’s deviation from his own policies on disciplining and terminating employees, certain statements and e-mails that at least indirectly suggest animosity toward a worker due to unlawful reasons, witnesses, prior claims against the employer, etc.
When you talk to an attorney about your potential wrongful termination case, ask him to explain to you what your claim will be based on and what evidence, in his opinion, supports your case. Understanding this should make you more comfortable with the process and should help you be a better claimant in your own case.