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Guide To California Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination


When you lose your job under unfair circumstances, you lose your livelihood and may be unclear about your legal rights to pursue compensation. If you’ve been unjustly fired or discharged, it’s crucial to understand the statute of limitations for wrongful termination and how it affects your ability to seek legal recourse.

Knowing the California wrongful termination law can help you protect your rights as an employee. By understanding the time constraints and legal requirements of filing a claim, you can take appropriate action against your former employer with the help of a wrongful termination lawyer.

What is Wrongful Termination?

A wrongful termination occurs when an employer terminates an employee for an illegal reason. Wrongful termination refers to the unlawful firing, discharge, or layoff of an employee by an employer.

Examples of wrongful termination under California law include the following:

  • Breaching of an implied contract between an employee and employer
  • Violation of a public policy
  • Retaliation for filing a complaint about discrimination against a protected class under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
  • Violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act
  • Whistleblower retaliation

Wrongful termination also includes a concept called constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal occurs when an employer deliberately allows working conditions that are so unbearable that a reasonable employee perceives no other option but to resign.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

If you seek compensation for wrongful termination, you must first understand how the statute of limitations affects the time you have to file your wrongful termination lawsuit.

The statute of limitations is the length of time in which you can file your claim, starting the day of your firing. It encourages victims to take action to assert their rights for compensation and ensures that evidence related to the incident remains reliable for legal proceedings.

If you do not file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you will lose your opportunity to receive compensation. Filing after the timeframe has passed will result in the judge dismissing your case.

What is the Statute of Limitations in California for Wrongful Termination?

California has different statutes of limitations for wrongful termination claims depending on the circumstances of your firing from your employer. These are the statutes of limitations for wrongful termination:

Breach of Implied Contract

If you didn’t have a formal employment contract, you have a two-year window starting from your termination date to take legal action. This statute of limitations covers various situations, including breaches of contracts, oral contracts, and non-written employment agreements.

Violation of Public Policy

Under California labor law, wrongful termination that violates public policy occurs when an employer dismisses an employee for exercising their legal rights and fulfilling legal obligations. These rights must be connected to a significant public policy.

The termination of an employee becomes unlawful under the following circumstances:

  • Refusing to commit illegal acts
  • Fulfilling a legal duty
  • Exercising a legal privilege or right
  • Reporting a potential legal violation

You can bring your claim within two years of the date of termination if your termination violated public policy.

FEHA Retaliation

As an employee, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) safeguards your rights from employer retaliation due to your age, ancestry, religion, and other personal details. FEHA also protects you if you care for a family member with a disability, such as a mental or physical impairment that affects a major life activity.

If you find yourself in a situation where your employer retaliates against you by terminating your employment for exercising your rights under the FEHA, it constitutes a wrongful termination.

A wrongful termination violating FEHA includes several situations in which the employee conducts the following:

  • Opposed or filed a complaint regarding workplace harassment or sexual harassment
  • Initiated a claim based on gender, sexual orientation, national origin, race, or any other protected trait under an employment discrimination law
  • Challenged the employer’s denial of leave covered by pregnancy, family, or medical leave acts
  • Testified or assisted in a FEHA proceeding
  • Requested a workplace accommodation due to a disability or religious belief

You have three years starting from the termination date to file a wrongful termination complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). The CRD assesses your complaint to determine whether the laws they enforce cover the claims you have made. If they decide you can sue your employer, they send you a notice of the right-to-sue letter.

Once you receive it, you have one year to initiate a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer. This wrongful termination letter signifies that the CRD has completed its assessment and investigation, granting you the right to proceed with legal action.

Violation of WARN Act

You have three years to sue if your employer violates California’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, resulting in your wrongful termination. The WARN Act requires employers to provide a 60-day notice before a plant closure or mass layoff.

This law allows affected employees to seek other job opportunities and obtain training or retraining to boost their competitiveness in the job market. Employers must follow the WARN Act if they have employed 75 or more employees within the past 12 months.

If your employer has violated the WARN Act during a mass layoff, you and your fellow affected employees may be eligible for financial compensation, including lost wages and benefits. Your employer may face significant consequences, such as a potential civil penalty of $500 per day for each violation. You could receive back pay based on your final compensation rate or a three-year average rate, whichever is higher.

Whistleblower Retaliation and Sarbanes-Oxley Act

The California Labor Code section 1102.5 LAB protects employees who do the following:

  • Reporting wage and hour law violations to the Labor Commissioner
  • Bringing evidence of suspected criminal activity by the employer to a law enforcement or government agency
  • Making internal allegations of alleged wrongdoing to a supervisor or someone with the authority to investigate.

When your employer fires you for speaking out against workplace misconduct, this is considered wrongful termination under the law. You can take action against your employer within three years of your termination.

If you expose suspected securities fraud committed by your employer, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act gives you the right to file an administrative complaint within 180 days of your wrongful termination. The Department of Labor then has 180 days to respond to your complaint. If they fail, you can file a lawsuit against your employer within 4 years.

Protect Your Rights After Your Wrongful Termination

California employers are required to adhere to state and federal labor laws. Violations of these laws, particularly those designed to safeguard employees, can lead to wrongful termination cases. When you seek legal advice and take prompt action, you can protect your rights, seek compensation, and hold your employer accountable for your firing.


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