Can a Volunteer Sue For Wrongful Termination?

If you’re a volunteer who just experienced wrongful termination, you might wonder if you can sue.

The answer is yes, volunteers can sometimes sue if they’re wrongfully terminated.

This means if you’re volunteering and are fired for an unlawful reason such as discrimination, you might have a case.

It’s important to talk to an employment lawyer to understand your rights and see if you can make a claim.

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Can a Volunteer Sue For Wrongful Termination?

Of course! In California, for instance, where employers can usually fire workers without giving a reason, the same goes for volunteers. However, there are rules.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects volunteers from being fired for certain reasons. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Unlawful Firing: If a volunteer is fired because of discrimination or retaliation, they can take legal action under FEHA.
  2. Protected Categories: FEHA states that employers can’t discriminate based on race, religion, age, disability, or sexual orientation.
  3. No Harassment: Employers can’t mistreat volunteers or subject them to harassment.
  4. Benefits Matter: If a volunteer gets any perks that regular employees get, they might be considered an employee under the law.
  5. Signs of Discrimination: If you’re treated unfairly because of who you are, like being given impossible tasks or facing offensive comments, you might have a case.
  6. Get Legal Advice: If you think you’ve experienced wrongful termination, talk to an employment lawyer.

Remember, even though you’re volunteering, you still have rights. Standing up for fairness helps everyone in the long run.

When a Volunteer can Sue for Wrongful Termination

As mentioned earlier, employers have a lot of freedom to let go of their volunteers and interns for almost any reason.

They can legally fire you if they don’t like your personality, but they can’t do it if it’s because of discrimination or retaliation.

But how can you tell if it was wrongful termination due to discrimination, especially when it’s not always obvious?

If you belong to a group that’s protected by law and you experienced any of these unfair actions while working, you might have a case:

  • Getting assigned tasks that are impossible to finish well
  • Getting treated worse than other volunteers consistently
  • Being talked down to or insulted
  • Hearing mean or belittling tones
  • Facing jokes or comments that are discriminatory or offensive

These are just some examples of discrimination that volunteers or unpaid interns might encounter, and there could be more.

If you aren’t sure whether you were treated unfairly? Consult with an employment lawyer. This lawyer will help you figure out what to do next and provide important support if you decide to sue.

Volunteer Discrimination Law

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) doesn’t just protect paid workers; it also covers those in unpaid positions.

According to FEHA’s provisions for Unpaid Interns and Volunteers:

  • Employers are not allowed to discriminate against unpaid interns or volunteers based on any protected characteristic during selection, termination, training, or treatment (section 11009(e)).
  • Unpaid interns and volunteers should not be subjected to unlawful harassment (section 11019(b)).

An employer can fire you for almost any reason, except for those protected by law. Examples of such reasons are; race, religion, age, disability, gender, and more.

Moreover, if you receive any “employment benefit” while working as an intern or volunteer, your situation might be considered similar to that of an employee, which could strengthen your case.

Examples of employment benefits include gratuity and bonuses received while working.

Despite laws in place to safeguard your rights regardless of your employment status, not all employers adhere to these regulations.

In such situations, it’s essential to seek legal advice from an attorney who can assist you based on the specifics of your case.

So then, What’s Next for a Volunteer and Wrongful Termination?

Taking a stand against discrimination and wrongful termination is crucial. If such actions go unchallenged, there’s a risk they will be repeated with others.

It’s therefore important to take action to prevent this.

To build a solid legal case, gathering evidence is key.

Although it can be difficult to find tangible proof like documents that clearly mention discrimination, keeping a detailed record can help.

Note down incidents of discrimination in a diary, including specifics like what occurred, along with the date and time.

However, a diary alone may not be enough. For a robust claim, consider collecting:

  • Statements from witnesses
  • Your personnel file, if accessible
  • A copy of the employee manual or company rules on discrimination
  • Any discriminatory or retaliatory communications, such as emails and texts
  • The termination process itself can also provide evidence.
  • Request a written explanation for your dismissal from your employer.
  • Store all evidence securely and present it to a labor attorney.

Whereas involving a lawyer might seem daunting, if you’re convinced that your termination from a volunteer position was wrongful, it’s advisable to consult with an employment attorney promptly.

Basically, it’s important to hold employers accountable for discriminatory behavior, regardless of whether the job is paid or unpaid.


The question of whether a volunteer can sue for wrongful termination isn’t just about laws, but what’s right.

As we refer to the rules of work, it’s important to note that a person’s worth isn’t measured only by whether they get paid.

Volunteers are protected by the same rules that protect paid workers. Therefore, just like paid workers, volunteers can sue for wrongful termination.

When the threat of being fired unfairly hangs over them, the law becomes a guide, showing them how to fight back.

By standing against wrongful termination, volunteers start a conversation that can break down barriers and make the world more fair for everyone.

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