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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 10923
Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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I am a Vice Persident with a company in San Diego. I was detailed

Customer Question

I am a Vice Persident with a company in San Diego. I was detailed to run an operation in Orlando, Fl for the last 14 months. I hired my replacement in Florida. I have returned to a new position that was announced less than two months ago. To day, instead of my annual performance review, I was told that I am now being reorganized out of a job. I have only been back in the San Diego office for two weeks.
THe company in the meantime has hired 4 new VPs in new positions throughout the local office. I feel that this action is being taken because in June i confronted the President about his poor behavior toward employees. I am also over 50 and a 50% service disabled veteran.
What are my options?
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: California Employment Law
Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 3 years ago.
Hello and thank you for entrusting me to answer your question. I am so sorry to hear that you have been notified you are being let go and I can understand why you feel as though the motivation here is improper.

Unfortunately, the laws in this area strongly favor the employer. Absent an employment contract guaranteeing employment for a specified period of time, employment in the state of California is presumed to be "at will." More specifically, California Labor Code Section 2922 provides that: "employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other." What this means is that an employer is free to terminate employees for any reason whatsoever, even a reason that is entirely unfair, unless the underlying motivation is discriminatory or otherwise in violation of California law.

One of the very few exceptions to this doctrine of "at will" employment concerns what I believe you are alluding to in your question--retaliation. Unfortunately, though, the law prescribes a very narrow definition of "retaliation" in regard to when it becomes legally actionable.

In general, an employee must engage in legally protected conduct in order to have a valid claim for retaliation. Legally protected conduct would include such things as taking FMLA protected leave, filing a wage claim for overtime, or filing for workers compensation, for example. These are all rights that an employer cannot infringe with.

While it is certainly understandable and indeed perhaps commendable that you confronted the president of your company with regard to his poor treatment of employees, this would not ordinarily constitute "protected conduct" that would give rise to a valid claim for retaliation. This is because, generally speaking, an employee enjoys no right to complain to management with regard to such issues.

If the conduct of which you complained was sexual harassment, that may prove to be a different story, as the law does protect individuals who make efforts to prevent such harassment from occurring. However, it is not illegal for a manager to treat employees poorly for most other reasons, and so if your complaint concerned the president's treatment of employees more generally, an individual in your circumstance would enjoy no special job protecton by virtue of having made a complaint.

To summarize, the doctrine of "at will" employment permits employers to terminate employees at any time and for just about any reason. One of the few exceptions to this general rule is that an employer may not retaliate against an employee who engages in certain legally protected conduct. If your complaints to the president concerned sexual harassment and the complaints were designed to prevent that conduct from occurring further, you may be entitled to some protection; however, complaints about generally poor treatment do not give rise to any sort of special job protection. Accordingly, the doctrine of at will employment would permit termination, despite it being incredibly unfair and unjustified.

I realize that the law is not entirely in your favor here and I am truly sorry to have to deliver bad news. Nonetheless, I trust that you will appreciate an accurate explanation of the law and realize that it would be unprofessional of me and unfair to you to provide you with anything less.

I sincerely hope that this information helps you and I wish you the best.

If you do not have any further concerns, I would be very grateful if you would give my answer a positive rating and click submit, as this is the only way I will receive credit for assisting you. If you have any additional concerns that you would like me to address, please feel free to let me know by hitting the REPLY or CONTINUE CONVERSATION button and I will be more than happy to continue assisting you.

Finally, please bear in mind that none of the above constitutes legal advice nor is any attorney client relationship created between us.

Thank you and very kindest regards.

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