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Brandon M.
Brandon M., Counselor at Law
Category: California Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 12620
Experience:  California licensed attorney
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My brother was fired for inappropriate behavior due to an individuals

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My brother was fired for inappropriate behavior due to an individual’s (male) claim. Now, the company (Coca Cola in California) has not incorporated a sexual harassment training policy from which employees are unaware of their behavior. The organization has failed to foster a sexual-harassment free work place. In this case all employees act freely; however, my brother was affected by this one individual. I am not condoning the behavior; however, is the company right for doing this based on one individual? At the same time they will not let him collect unemployment? Please advise, this has changed my brother’s life as he cannot afford to support his family.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: California Employment Law
Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
Hello there:

Thank you for entrusting me with your question. California is an employment-at-will state, which basically means that either the employer or the employee can modify or terminate the employment relationship at most any time and for most any reason. For this reason, unlike some other jurisdictions, there is no presumption that the employer has an unequal bargaining position, so there are no extra protections in place for the employee; if either side does not like their arrangement, they have the right to quit. The employee can quit the relationship if he does not like the employer, and the employer can quit the relationship if it does not like the employee. So "yes" an employer can generally terminate an employee "for no reason" or most "any reason". It's not fair, but it's generally legal.

This is not without limitation. Some reasons for termination are illegal; for example, it is illegal to terminate an employee because of their familial status, race/color, gender, religion, ethnicity, age (if over 40) disability, genetic information, or in retaliation because the employee is a whistle-blower. It is not illegal, however, to modify or terminate the employment for reasons that are simply unfair or ill-informed.

Some companies have internal procedures for employee pay reduction or termination. Usually, these procedures exist as a company safe-guard to avoid a lawsuit alleging termination based on an illegal reason. However, when these procedures are incorporated into an employee manual and distributed to the employees, it can create a guarantee of sorts upon which the employee may legally rely; so, for example, it may create an enforceable guarantee that the employee will only have his salary reduced for certain reasons or under certain conditions, or that the employee will be terminated for only certain reasons.

Sometimes there is a contract in place with the employee. That too can create rights for the employee; however, an action for violation of an employment contract is considered a suit for breach of contract. You had not mentioned that there was a contract.

Sometimes, the employer will fabricate an excuse to terminate an employee when the real reason is illegal. That is also actionable. If the termination or disciplinary action is just a guise for an illegal reason, a complaint may be filed with the EEOC or the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

But generally the employer can terminate with or without good cause. I do not have good news for you in that regard.

As for unemployment, an employee who is otherwise eligible to collect may be denied if they were fired "for misconduct". Termination for misconduct means "intentional action which the person who claims benefits foresees, or which it may be reasonably inferred he must have foreseen, would tend to produce or prolong a period of unemployment and from which a reasonable person in the claimant's circumstances and with the claim- ant's knowledge and understanding, desiring employment and foreseeing such loss of employment, would necessarily refrain." If the termination was for misconduct, that would preclude him from getting unemployment benefits. If the behavior was not misconduct and the employer says that it was, the employee can appeal the denial of claims through the unemployment office.

I understand that you may have follow-up questions. Let me know if further clarification is needed. Thank you.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

I am aware of the employment at will; however, the organization (Coca Cola) has failed to train these employees on sexual harassment training. I understand that the State of California mandates corporations to conduct sexual harassment training once every two years. I am not really sure. At the same time the individual has been known for reporting sexual harassment claims on other employees within the company. Basically, isn't the claim of one person be consider defamation of character? Although, I understand the consequences I just feel it is unfair to be punish for something the organization has failed to incorporate. In my company (ManTech) there is zero tolerance for such behavior but every employee has mandatory sexual harassment training to aware of the repercussion. Please advise. Thanks.

Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
Under California law, employers with 50 or more employees must give theirs supervisory employees two hours of sexual harassment training once every two years.

Defamation of character is (1) a false statement (2) which exposes a person to public contempt, ridicule or disgrace or causes others to think badly of the person defamed (3) and is made to a third party. The only question is whether all three elements are met. If someone defames another and it causes them to be teriminated, the defamation suit would be against the person who made the defamatory statement, not against the employer.

I hope that this makes sense.
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