All the way back in 1919 the California Supreme Court held no specific words are necessary to terminate an employment relationship, Percival v. National Drama, 181 Cal. 631, 637 (1919). In 1961 a California appellate court held acts can show an intention to dispense of services, Warner v. Bumgarner, 197 Cal.App.2d 331, 353 (1961). These standards mean two things to an employee attorney: 1) There is no set definition of what constitutes a termination of employment; 2) Examples of employment ending short of an employer telling the employee they are fired, or providing termination paperwork are infinite. In layman’s terms this means if acts and circumstances are examined to determine if there was a quit or termination that is a factual issue the court should allow to go to the fact finder (usually the jury) and prevent a judge from throwing out a case involving a separation of employment potentially susceptible to some people as a termination.
For the purposes of employment law, determinations whether an employee was fired versus voluntarily quitting are important because the legal standards are different. CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE LAW ON QUITING EMPLOYMENT. Generally, employees who quit and sue must demonstrate they complained about intolerable working conditions, prohibited by statute, and they gave their employer time to correct the situation before quitting. In order to sue for wrongful termination or constructive wrongful termination California employees do not have to complain about somethi ng actually illegal. The legal standard is found in Collier, 228 Cal.App.3d 1117, 1125 referenced by the California Supreme Court in Green. Employees cannot be fired for reporting reasonably based suspicions.
For the purposes of unemployment insurance benefits it is also important to determine if an employee was fired or they quit. Most of the time courts understand employees are justified in quitting if they are experiencing sexual harassment by a supervisor, or sexual harassment by a co-worker they have complained of which the employer fails to stop. Courts may also be sympathetic to employees exposed to various forms of discrimination such as age, disability, or race discrimination presuming the employee can prove the actions taken towards them were really due to one of these protected characteristics. Courts have also allowed employees to quit and sue if they complain about something that will subject the employee to criminal liability, or the loss of a professional license.
While courts are supposed to find the nonpayment of wages to be a factor justifying an employee to quit, some courts have not been so easy on those cases. CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT OUR SUCCESSFUL APPEAL IN VASQUEZ V. FRANKLIN IN WHICH AN EMPLOYEE WAS JUSTIFIED IN QUITING OVER NON-REIMBURSEMENT FOR MILEAGE. There are also published cases failing to find employment terminations even though the employer failed to pay the employee’s wages for some time. However, many of these cases are quite old.
Every court is different. In some parts of California the courts apply more stringent standards. For example, we recently argued an appeal based upon a San Bernardino trial judge who held it was not outrageous working conditions in a civilized society, or a failure to provide a safe or healthy work environment when a truck driver was confined for 36 days in a truck, without bathroom or shower facilities that only stopped to refuel. The space was 8 by 8. There was not any evidence the employee could stand. Nor was there evidence he would not suffer the type of medical problems one suffers after sitting in an airplane for only 6 hours. Employees being confined for 36 days to an area that would never pass a building inspection are not what the California workplace is about. Even in solitary confinement there are toilets, sewage, and water to wash one’s hands.
You must consult with a competent job termination lawyer if you have questions about whether you can sue due to quitting or being fired. Call 1-877-525-0700 to speak to our experienced job termination attorneys.
California unemployment cases dealing with the inquiry whether an employee quit or was fired have looked at whether the employee's end of employment was on their own volition, in Sherman/Bertram, 202 Cal.App.2d 733 interpreting California Unemployment Insurance Code, 1256. Another unemployment insurance appeal case, Evenson v. EDD, 62 Cal.App.3d 1005 looked at whether the employee chose to be unemployed.
In California it is possible to quit a job and obtain unemployment benefits. Extreme situations that might also classify as constructive wrongful termination for a civil case may also allow an employee to quit and obtain unemployment insurance. McCrocklin v. Butler, 156 Cal.App.3d 1067 held a poorly ventilated area did raise a safety concern warranting resignation. Multiple unemployment insurance appeals held subjective beliefs about health risks justify resignation, Moore v. Bechtel, 169 Cal.App.3d 235, Rabago, 84 Cal.App.3d 200, Steinberg, 87 Cal.App.3d 582.
Under contract law a failure to perform is a breach of contract, Sterling v Gregory, 149 Cal. 117, 121. Parties must also do everything to prevent performance from being impossible, April v. KTTV, 147 Cal.App.3d 805, 816. For example, an employer should not make it impossible for an employee to work. A party who fails to proceed with an obligation [such as providing a truck for a trucker to drive] cannot rely on their inaction to defeat liability, San Bernardino Valley Water, 236 Cal.App.2d 238.
Some employees have employment contracts with their employers. Under these circumstances contract law governs whether an employee can sue their employer when it appears the employment relationship has ended. TO READ ABOUT EMPLOYEE CONTRACTS FOR EMPLOYMENT CLICK HERE.