Public Policy is first brought into effect in California after the California Supreme Court case, Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. in 1980. As the case goes, Tameny files a lawsuit against his employer, Arco, with the complaint that he was wrongfully terminated for refusing to engage in fixing gas prices. The court ruled in favor of Tameny, establishing the law that protects those asked to perform illegal activity.
In short, Public Policy in labor law means that one cannot be fired for refusing to engage in something that negatively effects the public at large, or for engaging in activities that benefit the public good, whether or not it comes at a detriment to the employer. The common term for the latter is often referred to as whistleblowing.
Let’s Look at Some Examples
The 1980 precedent is a great example because it involves activity that clearly harms the public at large – fixing the price of anything is damaging not only to all consumers but to free enterprise in general. It’s important in wrongful termination under violation of public policy cases to establish this great harm.
Conversely, a bad example might be an employee who has been fired as a result of untruthful rumors spread about them throughout the office. Though this may be grounds for defamation of character, it is not in violation of public policy because gossip is not really a threat to the greater good.
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Recent California cases have affirmed this 1980 precedent and now protect employees from termination for both refusing to engage in the activity and reporting it to the proper channels.