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Ultimate California Wrongful Termination Guide 2022

Updated: Nov 28

Everything you need to know about filing a Wrongful Termination Claim in California

An employee can bring a 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 legitimate wrongful termination cases in California. You can request an unbiased referral to a pre-screened California Employment Lawyer for a FREE case analysis 24 hours a day if you believe your employer violated your employee rights.


What exactly is considered wrongful termination in California?


Wrongful termination is a type of retribution that 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 harassment. 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.


That said, if you're not quite sure if your case qualifies for employment claims, consider talking to and consulting a Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Attorney. A California Wrongful Termination Attorney knows their way around labor laws, and can help you find proof, negotiate, file the right documents, and beat the important deadlines.


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 an employee's protected status, such as race, sex, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or even political affiliation.

If you've experienced wrongful termination, set a meeting with a California Wrongful Termination Attorney to help you figure things out.


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


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


A Wrongful Termination Lawyer in California will know what to do and can offer you several labor law options.


Is wrongful termination in California difficult to prove?


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

An employee can win a wrongful termination lawsuit 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.

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


How long a wrongful termination lawsuit lasts depends on several variables that 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, the parties are willing to resolve the claim within a few months after it is filed in court. Absent arbitration 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 California Employment Attorneys will vary. In wrongful termination proceedings, however, most wrongful termination attorneys can work out certain alternative fee plans. If the case is strong, an attorney might be willing to take on significant risk and costs by treating the case on a contingency fee basis.


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. Unlike employees in other countries, workers in the United States have no job protection without a formal contract or union bargaining arrangement.


The employee must be able to prove that the termination violated a basic public policy or workplace safety law to contest a job termination. A California Employment Attorney will help you decide if your dismissal was unconstitutional or 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 a suit. An employee, for example, has three years to file a 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). On the other hand, a common law lawsuit for wrongful termination is regulated by a two-year statute of limitation.


A wrongful termination lawyer in California will know the deadlines and can help you get the paperwork and necessary documents in time.


In California, can you be terminated for no reason?


Yes, non-union workers in California may be terminated for no reason. An employer can terminate an employee because it is Friday 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 an Employment Lawyer 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" can file a lawsuit and/or claim unfair termination under California labor law. This is because wrongful termination is legally a breach of the employment contract.


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