California Termination Laws: Know Your Rights

California Termination Laws: Know Your Rights

As a business professional and leader in your field, you likely take pride in excelling at your job. However, even top talent can unexpectedly face termination. California operates under at-will employment laws, giving companies broad discretion over firing staff. Still, exceptions exist to protect employees from wrongful termination.

Knowing your rights under California employment laws is crucial if you ever find yourself facing unjust firing. With the right legal counsel, you may have more options than you think. TONG LAW routinely advises senior-level professionals and c-suite executives on navigating termination disputes to secure favorable outcomes. Keep reading for key considerations on termination laws for business leaders and executives.

What is At-Will Employment in California?

Under California Labor Code Section 2922, California maintains at-will employment standards.

The statute states, “An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other. Employment for a specified term means an employment for a period greater than one month.”

This means companies can terminate an employee for any reason without warning or obligation to show cause. The only exception is firing someone based on an illegal reason, like discrimination.

Some aspects of at-will employment in California:

  • It applies to non-union employees without an employment contract.
  • Employers don’t need just cause or minimum warnings.
  • Employees can be let go during restructuring or for personality conflicts.
  • Employees may quit at any time without reason or notice.

While at-will employment grants broad firing powers to employers, exceptions apply.

Exceptions to At-Will Employment in California

Even in an at-will state like California, limitations on firing employees exist. As a worker, you maintain protections against termination if it would:

Violate Public Policy

This represents the broadest exception to at-will employment in the state of California. For example, employers cannot require you to violate the law or bar you from exercising legal rights like voting, jury duty, or whistleblowing. Discrimination or harassment based on protected characteristics like race, gender, age, or disability would violate state and federal law.

Breach Implied Contracts

Implied contracts can also override at-will employment. Handbooks, policies, job offers, and employer conduct can unintentionally create binding implied contracts that restrict a company’s termination rights.

For instance, outlining a progressive discipline process implies workers will receive warnings before being fired. Offering employment for a set duration overrides at-will for that period. Compensation based on length of employment implies a commitment to employ someone for that duration.

Show a Lack of Good Faith

Even at-will employees are protected by the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in California. Examples of terminations that show a lack of good faith include firing someone to prevent them from collecting sales commissions or promised bonuses, imposing unrealistic expectations meant to provoke resignation, or terminating without fair process, warning, or investigation.

Familiarizing yourself with these exceptions is key to protecting yourself against unjust firing. TONG LAW regularly assists executives in asserting their rights when faced with wrongful termination.

Your Rights After Wrongful Termination

If you are fired illegally, you can pursue a legal claim for wrongful termination to recover damages. Remedies can potentially include:

  • Lost back and future wages
  • Unpaid benefits and commissions
  • Healthcare expenses
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Potential job reinstatement

The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff but experienced employment law attorneys can build compelling cases, even when at-will provisions apply.

Consulting qualified counsel promptly when facing termination is critical. We can evaluate risks and likelihood of prevailing if you pursue claims against your employer. Where cases have merit, we can negotiate favorable settlements or file a wrongful termination lawsuit if needed.

How to File a Wrongful Termination Claim in California

If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated in a California workplace, swift action is crucial. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:

Step 1: Gather Evidence 

The responsibility is on you, the worker, to substantiate that your termination was wrongful. Collecting evidence swiftly is key. Text messages, emails detailing termination reasons, or an official termination notice can serve as vital proof.

If the termination occurred in a face-to-face meeting, document the details promptly. Record what was said, who was present, the date, time, and location. If there were witnesses among your colleagues, note their presence for potential future testimony.

Keep in mind the statute of limitations, usually restricting claims to two years from termination. In certain cases, such as FEHA violations, WARN Act violations, or whistleblower retaliation, the limit extends to three years. Act promptly to avoid missing the window for legal action.

Step 2: File a Formal Legal Complaint

Consult with an attorney to initiate a formal legal complaint. The nature of the wrongful termination will dictate where the complaint is directed (e.g., the California Civil Rights Department or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for discrimination). If you believe you’re entitled to financial compensation, you may choose to file a civil lawsuit.

Step 3: Pursue Legal Action or Settle

In the event of a lawsuit, the employer might opt for a settlement instead of proceeding to court. However, you are not obligated to accept the settlement offered. If rejected, the litigation process unfolds, involving documentation filing, discovery, potential mediation, and a trial if necessary.

An employment attorney can assist in building a case, demonstrating the financial harm caused by the wrongful termination, including lost wages and missed opportunities. This comprehensive approach strengthens your position to secure the compensation you rightfully deserve.

Fight Back Against Unlawful Termination With a California Wrongful Termination Lawyer

Losing your job due to an unlawful firing is devastating, both financially and emotionally. However, the right legal team can help you take back control and pursue the compensation you deserve.

Our wrongful termination lawyers have extensive experience representing wrongfully terminated employees across California. We have a deep understanding of the state’s employment laws and have successfully handled all types of wrongful termination cases.

If you believe you’ve been fired illegally, turn to us for strong legal advocacy. We will thoroughly review the details of your case, pinpoint the most compelling legal arguments, and build a vigorous case on your behalf. Our proven negotiation skills frequently win favorable settlements from employers. Contact us today for a consultation.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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