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Guide To California Wrongful Termination Laws


Employees in California are protected from wrongful termination at the federal and state levels. California has specific rules that govern circumstances under which employers can lawfully dismiss an employee, preventing unjust firing for discriminatory reasons, retaliation, or violation of public policy.

Despite these safeguards, employers may still wrongfully terminate you from your position. This can result in lost earnings, damage to your reputation, and emotional distress.

If your employer has violated your rights, understanding how these laws work and speaking to a California employment lawyer can help you file a complaint and receive the compensation you deserve.

Can You Be Fired Without Warning in California?

In California, employment is generally at-will, meaning employers can terminate employees for almost any reason, as long as it’s not illegal. This includes reasons like poor job performance or scheduling conflicts.

However, termination may not infringe upon an employee’s civil or employment rights. Examples of wrongful termination include:

Who Do Wrongful Termination Laws Apply To?

Wrongful termination laws protect the rights of all employees in the state of California, whether they are part-time, full-time, temporary, or probationary.

The CA Labor Code (Section 3351) defines an employee as any person in the service of an employer, whether they have a traditional employment contract or an apprenticeship. Even oral and implied contracts can be considered valid employment arrangements and are subject to the state’s wrongful termination laws.

The definition does not cover independent contractors or self-employed individuals, such as freelancers, meaning they do not benefit from the state’s wrongful termination protections.

If you need clarification on your employee status, speak with a California employment lawyer. They can review the circumstances of your termination to determine if you were fired under illegal circumstances and advise you of your legal options.

What is the Burden of Proof for Wrongful Termination in California?

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated by your employer in California, the burden of proof lies with you. You must prove your wrongful termination claim by demonstrating four elements:

  • You were employed by the defendant
  • You were performing your job satisfactorily
  • You were terminated from the job
  • The circumstances of your firing are protected under wrongful termination laws

When you file a wrongful termination claim in California, your ex-employer may provide evidence justifying the termination as lawful. To succeed in your case, you need to demonstrate a preponderance of the evidence.

Unlike criminal cases, where facts must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil case is about showing that your claim is more likely true than your employer’s defense. A wrongful termination lawyer in California can help you gather evidence, like witness testimonies, employment records, or communication logs, to support your claim.

What are Your Legal Options After Wrongful Termination?

Your legal options after wrongful termination depend on the nature of your claim. They include:

  • Reporting your employer to the Civil Rights Department. If your employer terminated you due to discrimination, retaliation, or harassment, you may file a complaint with the California CRD and request an investigation.
  • Reporting your employer to the Labor Commissioner’s Office. If you were wrongfully terminated for exercising your labor laws, you may contact the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to report a labor law violation.
  • Filing a civil lawsuit. You may sue your former employer if a government agency can’t resolve your issue or if none cover the nature of your wrongful termination. For example, you may consider suing if you were wrongfully terminated due to a breach of contract.

Consult an experienced California employment law attorney to understand which legal options are available and what the best solution for your situation is.

How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?

In California, the time you have to file a wrongful termination lawsuit varies based on the type of claim. This time limit, known as the statute of limitations, starts from the day you were fired. If you don’t file within this period, you might lose the opportunity for compensation.

California’s wrongful termination statute of limitations are:

  • Breaches of contract. You have four years to file a lawsuit If your employer breached a written contract. If your agreement was oral or implied, you have two years.
  • Violations of public policy. You have two years to sue if you were terminated for refusing to commit an illegal act or exercising a legal right.
  • FEHA retaliation. If your employer fired you for filing a complaint under FEHA, you have three years to issue a complaint with the CRD. If it determines you have the right to sue, you have one year after receiving the CRD’s right-to-sue notice.
  • Whistleblower retaliation. If you were fired for reporting your employer for wage violations or suspected criminal activity, you have three years to sue them. If you were reporting securities fraud, you must contact the federal Department of Labor within 180 days.

Know Your Rights and Protect Yourself After Your Wrongful Termination

All California employers must follow applicable state and federal employment laws. If your employer violated the law and terminated you under illegal circumstances, a California employment law attorney can help you understand your rights and legal options.
Taking prompt action and seeking legal advice from a knowledgeable attorney is the best solution to protect your rights and seek compensation or reinstatement.


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