In Franklin v. The Monadnock Company, the Plaintiff sued for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.  Plaintiff’s lawsuit was based on complaints to the Company’s Human Resources Department that a fellow co-worker was threatening to have him and three others co?workers killed.  The Company failed to take action.  A week after Plaintiff’s complaints, Plaintiff’s co?worker attempted to stab Plaintiff with a metal screw driver and another unidentified weapon.  Plaintiff again complained to the Company and also to the police department.  Plaintiff was terminated shortly after his complaints.

In finding that Plaintiff could maintain a wrongful termination claim, the appellate court stated that case law clearly establishes an employer’s legal responsibility to provide a safe place of employment for their employees.  The Court noted that both California Labor Code § 6400 and the California Code of Civil Procedure § 527.8, when read together, establish an explicit public policy requiring employers to provide a safe and secure workplace, including a requirement that an employer take reasonable steps to address credible threats of violence in the workplace.  The court went on to specifically define a "credible threat of violence" as one that an employee reasonably believes will be carried out, so as to cause the employee to fear for his or her safety or that of his or her family.  In other words, the Court said that it is the perception of the employee who has been threatened that matters, not the opinion of the Company’s supervisors, Human Resources Department, or management.

In light of the above public policy interests and relevant California statutes and case law, the appellate court found that Plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to support a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy because his claims involved the public interests of a safe and crime-free workplace.  California law requires that an employee be free to bring, and not be terminated for bringing, to the employer’s attention illegal conduct or credible threats of violence so that the employer can prevent crimes and foreseeable violence from occurring in the workplace.

The case is a reminder to California employers that if an employee puts the Company on notice that he or she has a reasonable belief that violence will be carried out against them or their family, the employer must react immediately to maintain a safe and crime-free workplace.  Naturally, the employer must not terminate or take other adverse action against the employee based on these complaints.

If you have any further questions about these issues or any other employment-related matter, please contact one of our Labor and Employment attorneys.