Ultimate California Wrongful Termination Guide 2021

Updated: Mar 4

Everything you need to know about wrongful termination claims in California and how to find the best employment lawyers.


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.


An employee does not have a wrongful termination claim just because the termination was unjust or not fair. There are specific labor laws that determine if you have a legitimate wrongful termination claim against your employer. 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.


california wrongful termination

What exactly is considered wrongful termination in California?


Wrongful termination is a type of retribution that their employers may inflict on workers. Under both federal and state wage and hour regulations, this is an actionable crime. Section 15(a)(3) of the Equal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) expressly forbids the firing of an employee by an employer if a complaint has been filed. This complaint can be submitted in writing or orally, usually to the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) (the DOL).


The state law that forbids this is Section 98.6 LC of the California Labor Code. An employee filing a complaint about a labor law violation (most commonly unpaid wages) is covered, similar to Section 15(a)(3) of the FLSA. Section 98.6 LC is often referred to as the "whistleblower statute" since it protects whistleblowers under California wage and hour laws.


Employees in California have the right to sue their employer in federal court if the employee has been wrongfully fired. This can be achieved under the Labor Code at the federal level, under the FLSA, or at the state level.

In addition, if this termination was inflicted as a reprisal on the employee for filing an unpaid wage complaint, then the termination itself is the basis for a labor lawsuit.


This takes place independently of the case of unpaid salaries. Even if the court ultimately denies the employee's allegations of unpaid wages, the fact that they were unfairly dismissed constitutes an actionable offense which could result in the employee being owed financial compensation.


This also limits the reasons why an employee can legally fire an employee, despite the fact that California is an at-will employment state. If the employer in question has "discriminatory intent" to fire the employee, one of the most common legal grounds for an unfair termination claim and/or litigation arises. This suggests that for the dismissal, they had certain unlawful motives.

Under Section 98.6 of the California Labor Code, it is unconstitutional to fire an employee in retaliation for alleging unpaid salaries, reporting any breach of wages and hours, or filing a backpay claim lawsuit. Any worker who performs any of these acts is known as a "whistleblower" and is protected by California law.

Other forms of retribution are also prohibited by this particular labor law, including the dismissal of the worker, the reduction of their scheduled working hours, and/or the relocation of them to a smaller agency. Any of these acts would be called retaliation, which would be grounds for a complaint about retaliation.

In addition, employers in the state of California are not legally authorized to fire an employee under both federal and state labor laws for any of the following reasons:

  • Ethnicity

  • Country of origin

  • Religion beliefs

  • Skin color

  • Mental and/or psychological handicap

  • Health status and/or physical impairment (protected under FEHA and ADA)

  • Data on genetics

  • Age

  • Identity between gender, sex, and/or gender

  • Matrimonial status

  • Sexual preference

  • Language or for having an accent

  • Military service and/or rank as a veteran

  • Political affiliation

  • Jury duty

  • Family Medical Leave

  • Pregnancy or maternity leave

  • Whistleblowing Retribution

These different factors are not assumed to be valid, legal, and/or legitimate grounds for termination. In the most important anti-discrimination labor law, "The Fair Employment and Housing Act," they are largely specifically delineated (also known as FEHA). This is a California state statute that refers to employers with five (5) or more employees.

In order to protect disadvantaged groups of workers from unfair termination and/or abuse, FEHA was effectively established. This ensures that, for all of these reasons, an employer can not threaten an employee either.


Based on any of these considerations, the employer in question is therefore not legally permitted to encourage what is recognized as a "hostile work environment" through harassing. This implies that there is an implied expectation under California labor laws that employers create a working atmosphere that has a certain minimum degree of safety and security for their workers.


Specific examples of 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 wrongful termination 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?


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.

california wrongful termination

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.


"Under California law, what is an "Employee"?


Only an "employee" is legally eligible to file a lawsuit and/or claim unfair termination under California labor law. This is because wrongful termination is a breach of the employment contract, legally speaking.


Therefore, under California labor law, we must identify precisely what an employee is. A worker is called an employee if they operate under the direction, supervision, and/or control of an employer. This is known to be distinctly different from what "independent contractors" are called.


These independent contractors offer a product and/or service to a corporation or employer, but they do so with a considerable degree of flexibility about how they work. In other words, an independent contractor is someone who works for the business but decides the particulars of how the product and/or service is provided. They are not under the company's direct control. The higher the degree of control the employer has, the more likely an "employee" and not an "independent contractor" is the individual in question.


It is hypothetically conceivable that if they somehow breached the implied or explicit terms of their employment agreement, an independent contractor would have a claim against a company. Still, this breach would not be unfair termination in the true sense of the word. Wrongful termination in California only happens when a legally recognized employee of that organization is the aggrieved party.


Exception for Public Policy


These at-will work regulations have several exceptions. The first is the exception to public policy, which is caused if the employee in question declined to violate a statute or rule, refused to commit perjury, and/or refused to conspire with the employer to discriminate against a prospective employee because of their ethnicity, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, and/or gender. If any of these caveats are breached, then, under the public policy exception to at-will jobs, it is grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

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