Retaliation by Termination

The law prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who reports a crime to law enforcement. In a recent California case, a dental hygienist believed her wedding ring was stolen while at work. She reported the theft to the police, and a month later, she was fired.

It was her typical daily practice to remove her ring while performing dental duties at work. One afternoon she placed her wedding ring, along with her other belongings, on the break room table. After a conversation with a co-worker, she noticed her ring was no longer on the table. She conducted an extensive search of her office and home but could not find the ring. Against her boss’s wishes, she filed a police report.

After the Fresno Police Department visited the office for the second time, her boss informed her that the situation was causing tension and discomfort among the staff and he was going to let her go. The wedding ring was found the next day at the office.

The hygienist brought an action against her employer because her termination was motivated by her report of theft. The court held an employer may not fire an employee for reporting a violation of the law. The court also held that her termination was against the public interest because reporting suspected criminal activity is encouraged. The jury awarded the hygienist $117,768 in damages.

Employers: be advised that retaliation against an employee, specifically in the form of termination, can be illegal. Employers must ensure that motivation for termination is not: (1) against public policy or (2) based on an employee’s report of illegal activity.

 

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