California is an at-will employment state. Any company that has employees can terminate its agreement with an individual worker or an entire group of workers at any time without legal consequences. The workers can also quit, without giving notice in some cases, without incurring any penalties.
Frequently, when an employer decides to terminate an employee, they will apply a progressive discipline policy first. They will notify the worker about the issue, formerly write them up, and repeat this process several times. After three or four write-ups, the company will then terminate the worker.
In theory, progressive discipline creates internal records showing why a company let someone go. In the real world, progressive discipline is often used as a cover for a business’s wrongful termination of a worker.
No one oversees what management or HR does
Although the company should not engage in discrimination against workers from certain backgrounds or retaliate against workers to assert their rights, that is exactly what happens to some workers. Employees get let go because of their race, their age or their sex.
Management finds excuses to write up and then terminate a worker who tries to unionize their team members or demands better adherence to workplace safety laws. By writing someone up several times before terminating them, the company can create a feasible cover story for what is truly an illegal employment action.
What are signs that discipline is retaliatory or discriminatory?
There are a few warning signs that the discipline you faced at work stems from a desire to unfairly terminate you. One is when you seem subject to stricter rules than your co-workers. If the company only enforces the rule that they write you up for against you, that is a major warning sign that they have targeted you for your termination.
If the company now penalizes you for something they did not address before, that could be a warning sign too. The timing of the disciplinary action can give you insight into your employer’s motive. If you get written up right after filing a complaint about sexual harassment or requesting medical accommodations, you have every reason to be suspicious of your employer’s true intentions.
Keeping your own documentation about what has happened at your workplace can help you fight back if you face wrongful termination after a series of questionable attempts at progressive discipline.