Wrongful Termination in California: The Basics

Posted by Amy S. Ramsey | Sep 21, 2023 | 0 Comments

In California, where employment laws are robust and protective, understanding the nuances of wrongful termination is crucial.  However, for many Californians, the security of their employment can be unexpectedly shaken by the harsh reality of wrongful termination.

This guide delves into the fundamental aspects of wrongful termination in California. We will explore what wrongful termination is, the statute of limitations to file a claim, and explain what you need to do if you believe you've been wrongfully terminated.

What Defines Wrongful Termination in California?

Wrongful termination in California happens when an employer terminates an employee for reasons that violate state and federal law. California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that the employer or employee can terminate the employment at any time, with or without cause.

It's important to note that just because California follows “at-will” employment doesn't give employers the right to terminate someone based on discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. If the firing violates the employee's civil or employment rights, it could be considered wrongful termination.

  • Discrimination —One of the most common grounds for wrongful termination is discrimination. Employers are prohibited from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, or sexual orientation. Any termination that is motivated by these factors can be considered wrongful.
  • Retaliation —Wrongful termination also can occur if an employee is fired in retaliation for engaging in protected activities. This includes reporting workplace violations, participating in investigations, or making a complaint against the employer.
  • Breach of Contract —Whether written or implied, employment contracts can provide certain protections to employees. Wrongful termination may occur if the employer breaches the terms of an employment contract, like firing an employee without following the agreed-upon procedures. 
  • Whistleblower Protections —California law protects employees who report illegal activities or violations of public policy by their employers. Wrongful termination claims can arise if an employee is fired for blowing the whistle on such activities.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

To pursue legal remedies for wrongful termination in California, it's essential to understand the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a specified timeframe within which a lawsuit must be filed, and the statute of limitations varies depending on the nature of the claim.

Understanding these specific timelines is crucial when considering the appropriate course of action after experiencing wrongful termination.

What You Need to Prove in a Wrongful Termination Case

Establishing wrongful termination requires more than just spoken accounts. You need evidence in the form of witness testimony or documents. In addition to maintaining records of your termination and correspondence with your supervisor, statements from individuals who witnessed the events can significantly contribute to building your case.

Proving wrongful termination in California can be challenging, and employees must present compelling evidence to support their claims. Key elements to establish in a wrongful termination case include:

  • Illegal Motivation — Employees must demonstrate that the termination was motivated by unlawful reasons, such as discrimination or retaliation. This often involves providing evidence of discriminatory comments, patterns of behavior, or a sudden change in treatment following a protected activity.
  • Breach of Contract — If the termination is based on a breach of an employment contract, the employee must show that the employer failed to adhere to the terms outlined in the agreement. This may involve presenting the contract, relevant communications, or evidence of the employer's failure to follow established procedures.
  • Protected Activity — For retaliation claims, employees must prove that they engaged in a protected activity, such as reporting unlawful conduct, and that the termination was a direct response to this activity. Establishing a causal connection is crucial for retaliation cases.

What to Do if You Believe You've Been Wrongfully Terminated

If you find yourself in a situation where your employer has terminated your employment in violation of your rights, rest assured you are not alone. You can take steps to address the situation and build a strong case.

Document Everything

Keep detailed records of incidents, conversations, or actions relevant to your case. This includes performance reviews, emails, voicemails, and any evidence of discriminatory or retaliatory behavior. Encourage other co-workers who may have witnessed the incidents to keep their records.

Consult an Attorney

Seeking legal advice early in the process is essential. An experienced employment attorney can assess the merits of your case, guide you on the appropriate steps to take, and help you navigate the complexities of employment law. 

File a Complaint

Report the discriminatory incident to your employer and adhere to your company's established procedures for reporting such issues. If your employer fails to take appropriate action, you may need to escalate the matter and file a formal complaint.

Know Your Rights

Familiarize yourself with what constitutes discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Be well-versed in the laws safeguarding your rights, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Being informed about your rights is essential for navigating the complexities of employment law and ensuring a just resolution to your situation. Important worker's rights in California include:

  • The right to a safe workplace
  • Fair pay
  • Adequate meal and rest breaks
  • Freedom from discrimination and harassment
  • The ability to take time off for personal or family health concerns
  • The right to time off for jury duty or other legal proceedings 

How an Attorney Can Help With Your Wrongful Termination Case

Navigating a wrongful termination case in California can be complex, and having the proper legal representation is crucial. An employment attorney can provide invaluable assistance in the following ways:

  • Case Evaluation — Attorneys can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case, providing an honest evaluation of its merits and potential outcomes. 
  • Negotiation — Many employment disputes are resolved through negotiation. Attorneys can engage with the employer or their legal representation to explore settlement options that may be more favorable rather than going to court.
  • Representation —If a resolution cannot be reached through negotiation, an attorney can represent you in court, presenting a compelling case and advocating for your rights.
  • Expertise in Employment Law — Employment laws are complex and constantly evolving. Attorneys specializing in employment law have the knowledge and expertise to navigate the legal landscape and build a strong case on your behalf.

Turn to Advantage Advocates for Trusted Legal Representation for Your Wrongful Termination Case

Wrongful termination in California is a serious matter that requires a thorough understanding of the law and a strategic approach to seeking justice. You are entitled to seek compensation if you suspect your termination was unjust and unlawful. Time is of the essence, so don't delay when pursuing your case.

At Advantage Advocates, our primary mission is to provide an advantage to California employees involved in employment disputes. Our team is dedicated to helping employees who have faced wrongful termination, ensuring justice is served, and rightful compensation is obtained. 

Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

About the Author

Amy S. Ramsey

Amy S. Ramsey Founder & Attorney [email protected] 626-310-0101 Amy Ramsey works closely with clients to find proactive, practical solutions to employment law disputes, taking an aggressive, measured approach to put employees back into a position of power. Her extensive employ...


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