Ultimate California Wrongful Termination Guide 2021

Updated: 5 days ago

How To Find The Best Employment Lawyer For A California Wrongful Termination Claim.


Under California law, in retaliation for objecting to illegal actions in the workplace, "wrongful termination" refers to a case where an employee is fired against public policy. An employee can bring an wrongful termination claim (also known as a "Tameny" claim after the decision of the California Supreme Court in Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co.) where the discharge "violates basic labor laws" embodied in local and federal laws.


In the case of Tameny, for instance, the employee was fired for refusing to engage in an illicit scheme to set fuel retention rates. Only because the dismissal was unreasonable or unjust, an employee does not have a wrongful termination argument. You can request an unbiased referral to a pre-screened wrongful termination lawyer for a FREE case analysis 24 hours a day if you believe your employer violated your employee rights.



What is considered wrongful termination in California?

While most workers are "at-will" employees, there are grounds for dismissing an employee that would breach California or federal legislation. An employee, for example, may not be dismissed from his or her job for the following reasons:

  • Exercising a constitutionally covered right, such as making a petition for workers' compensation, taking parental leave, using sick days, or taking meals or rest breaks.

  • In retaliation for reporting a crime in the workplace that the employee felt violated local, state, or federal law.

  • Doing a compulsory obligation, such as being on jury duty or in the military.

  • Whistleblowing or refusing to engage in criminal activity.

  • Discrimination on the basis of the protected status of an employee, such as race, sex, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or even political affiliation.

For wrongful termination in California, what kind of lawyer is needed?


Employment attorneys may represent employees who are wrongfully terminated. An employment lawyer will determine the facts of your case and advise you on the dangers and possible advantages of making a wrongful termination lawsuit.


Is wrongful termination in California difficult to prove?


The burden of making a case through a preponderance of the facts are on an employee bringing a wrongful termination case. The evidence is circumstantial in most cases. To win a wrongful termination lawsuit, an employee doesn't need "smoking gun" evidence.

By pointing to the changing reasons for a dismissal, contradictions in the employer's story, and the time it took to report the wrongful termination action, an employee can win a wrongful termination lawsuit.

How long does it take for a wrongful termination lawsuit in California?


How long a lawsuit lasts depends on several variables, many of which are not within the employee's influence. Almost all lawsuits are settled before trial, according to court statistics.


In fact, some cases are resolved before they are even brought to court.


Most times, within a few months after it is filed in court, the parties are willing to resolve the claim. Absent arbitration, it can take many years for a lawsuit to come to trial.


How much does a case of wrongful termination in California cost?


This depends. In California, the billing rate for wrongful termination lawyers will vary. In wrongful termination proceedings, however, most wrongful termination attorneys are able to work out certain alternative fee plans. If the case is strong, by treating the case on a contingency fee basis, an attorney might be willing to take on significant risk and costs.


In that case, if the employee wins, the employee just pays the lawyer's fee (a portion of the recovery). Other times, in exchange for a lower percentage of the recovery, the lawyer can agree to accept a reduced hourly charge. There are fee agreements subject to negotiation.


Could you contest a case of wrongful termination in California?


In general, to terminate an employee, an employer does not need a good reason or "cause." Indeed, to terminate an employee, an employer does not need any excuse at all. Workers in the United States, unlike employees in other countries, have no job protection without a formal contract or a union bargaining arrangement.


The employee must be able to prove that the termination violated a basic public policy or workplace safety law in order to contest a job termination. You will be helped by an employment lawyer to decide if your dismissal was unconstitutional or simply unreasonable.


How long do you need to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination?


It depends on the statute that has been broken and how long you have to file suit. An employee, for example, has three years to file workplace discrimination or retaliation lawsuit with the California Department of Equal Jobs and Housing (the agency that administers the California Fair Employment and Housing Act). A common law lawsuit for wrongful termination, on the other hand, is regulated by a two-year statute of limitation.


In California, can you be terminated for no reason?


Yes, in California, non-union workers may be terminated for no reason at all. An employer can terminate an employee because it is Friday, or because the employee has failed to satisfy the receptionist or for being rude.


However, an employer cannot terminate an employee for illegal reasons such as discrimination in the workplace. Check our wrongful termination section for more information.


What does Constructive Termination mean?


An employer can make working conditions so miserable that an employee has no choice but to leave. There could be an argument for constructive dismissal or discharge if this occurs.


If you think an employee would consider resigning in similar circumstances, contact a wrongful termination attorney in Los Angeles to decide if you have a legitimate argument. In addition, under California law, wrongful termination and constructive discharge awards are the same.


California Wrongful termination and wages


State law requires employers at the time of termination to pay workers all salaries owed. Cal., Cal. Code of Labor § 201. This covers the salaries of the employee before the date of termination and also the accumulated and unused holiday or paid off time of the employee (PTO). Cal., Cal. Code of Labor § 227.3.


For commission workers, all earned commissions determined at the time of termination must also be compensated by employers. Cal., Cal. Code of Labor § 201. This does not refer to sick leave that is unpaid.


If an employer intentionally fails to pay all salaries, including accrued vacation and received commissions, to a terminated employee, the employee can collect fines for waiting time. Waiting time penalties accrue to a sum equal to the normal rate of pay of the employee compounded by the number of days not paid by the employee, up to 30 days. Cal., Cal. Code of Labor § 203.


How do I prove Wrongful termination in California?


An employer who, for an improper cause, terminates an employee is unlikely to be upfront about it. To escape future liability, some employers also use probationary periods for new hires.


Employees who claim they have been unlawfully dismissed must identify facts demonstrating that the employer's justification for the firing was both unlawful and a "substantial motivating factor." Proof may include remarks that indicate a bias by the boss or manager involved. Some proof gathering tips include:

  • Written proof documents, including emails, text messages, or slack messages

  • Obtaining necessary documents, such as pay stubs, performance reviews, or notes for analysis

  • Collecting data from prospective witnesses who might have witnessed any criminal activities

By demonstrating that the employer handled them differently than another employee who behaved in the same manner, an employee may also prove misconduct.


Example of wrongful termination in California: An employer terminates a Hispanic worker for violating a workplace rule, but under the same circumstances did not fire non-Hispanic employees who violated the same rule.

This may support the argument by the employee that the wrongful termination took place for racial reasons. Consultation with an experienced wrongful termination lawyer can assist workers in deciding if they have the evidence to prosecute a termination claim effectively.

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


The period of time after an incident that a person has to file a lawsuit is a statute of limitations. Because the statute of limitations can differ depending on the type of lawsuit you want to file, if you think you have been the victim of wrongful termination in California, you should consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible.


In California, wrongful termination cases are usually brought under the Equal Jobs and Housing Act ('FEHA') for workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The FEHA protects workers against discrimination based on "race, religious belief, mental disability, marital status, sex, gender, medical condition, genetic information, gender identity, skin color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, or military and veteran status." Moreover, the FEHA specifies employers' responsibilities to accommodate disabled workers and accommodate religious beliefs/observances.


California legislation also offers accommodation and leave rights under the Pregnancy Disability Leave Act ("PDLL") for pregnant workers. The California Family Rights Act ('CFRA') provides for job-protected leave for employees of larger firms who meet eligibility criteria and need time off for their serious medical condition, to take care of a parent, infant, or spouse's serious medical condition, or to bond with a new baby. The ("NPLA") New Parent Leave Act provides for workers who meet eligibility criteria for job-protected leave so that they can bond with a new baby/child.


An employee claiming claims under the FEHA, CFRA, PDLL, and/or NPLA must first file a complaint with the State Agency responsible for administering California's civil rights statutes, the Department of Equal Jobs and Housing ('DFEH'). A complaint had to be lodged with the DFEH within one year of the suspected illegal practice before the passage of AB 9.


Notice that under the judicially created "continuing violation doctrine," any actions pre-dating that time could occur, but the doctrine applies only under very restricted circumstances. In other words, it may use where an employee can prove that the unlawful conduct of the employer that occurred during the limitation period was "similar or related to the behavior that happened earlier," "reasonably frequent," and had not yet "become permanent." In other words, the period continued with the discriminatory and/or harassing behavior "occurring outside the limitation period." During the fatigue era, an employee is often best advised to file their complaint with the DFEH.


An employee in California can do one of two things when filing with the DFEH:

  1. file an online complaint requesting an automatic letter of 'right-to-sue' so that they can file a lawsuit against the company/employer in civil court, or

  2. submit an online intake form to request that the DFEH conducts its own investigation into the suspected misconduct of the employer. (Most employees represented by a wrongful termination lawyer prefer the first option; employees without a wrongful termination lawyer often choose the second option.)

For employees who choose to have the DFEH investigate, the agency has up to one year to conclude their investigation from the date the DFEH complaint was lodged. The DFEH may close the file and issue a right-to-sue letter along the way, or, if it makes a finding of merit, may prosecute the action on the employee's behalf. Employees then have one year to file a complaint in federal court from the date of issue of the "right-to-sue" letter.


Depending on the particular form of wrongful termination claim brought, there are other statutes of limitations. For instance, in situations where the employee is terminated due to discrimination or whistleblower retaliation charges are sometimes brought in combination with a tort claim for wrongful termination in public policy breach. As stated in section 335.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the statute of limitation for wrongful termination lawsuits is two years from the termination date.


Furthermore, as section 337 of the Code of Civil Procedure applies, the statute of limitations for violating a contractual argument is four years. However, according to section 339, the statute of limitations for violating an oral or implied contract is two years.


However, lawsuits for damages brought under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 ('PAGA') must be made within one year. They must be exhausted with the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. The statute of limitations for breaches under the Labor Code is three years.


California Wrongful Termination Settlements.


An employee can claim damages in Wrongful termination cases for:

  • Lost salaries, history, future

  • Any more advantages

  • Termination-induced fear, mental distress, or depression

  • If an employer in California is found to be guilty of fraud or malice, punitive damages

  • Fees and fees to lawyers

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