Facebook pixel
Skip to Main Content

Wrongful Termination in California: Understanding Your Rights

person with a wrongful termination letter

Wrongful termination is when an employee is fired for reasons that violate the law or their employment contract. California’s comprehensive labor laws intensify this issue by safeguarding worker rights. While bosses can usually fire employees for any reason (or no reason), they can’t do it for illegal reasons like discrimination or retaliation.

In this post, we’re going to look at what wrongful termination really means in California. We’ll discuss the laws protecting employees, how to recognize wrongful termination, and steps to take if it occurs. If you suspect unfair dismissal, we will help you understand your rights and actions – and help you find the right employment lawyer to plead your case. 

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination in California?

It’s crucial to understand the difference between at-will employment and wrongful termination. California operates under the principle of at-will employment, meaning employers have the liberty to terminate employees at any time for any reason, barring any illegal motives. However, this does not grant employers the right to dismiss employees for discriminatory, retaliatory, or otherwise illegal reasons. This encompasses a range of scenarios where the termination violates either state or federal regulations or the terms of the employee’s contract.

These are some common examples of wrongful termination:

  • Retaliation: If an employee is terminated for reporting illegal activities, participating in an investigation, or for whistle-blowing, it constitutes wrongful termination.
  • Discrimination: This includes firing someone based on race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • Breach of Contract: Dismissing an employee in violation of the terms outlined in an employment contract.
  • Violating Public Policy: Termination for reasons that contravene public policy, such as firing an employee for taking time off to vote or serve on a jury.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) receives thousands of employment discrimination and retaliation complaints annually, proving that wrongful termination is a real and pressing issue. 

Employee Rights Under California Law

In California, employees are afforded a range of rights to protect them against wrongful termination. These rights are grounded in a variety of statutes and regulations, each designed to ensure fair and lawful treatment in the workplace.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is central to these protections. FEHA is a cornerstone of California labor law, primarily focused on preventing discrimination in employment and housing. Under FEHA, it is illegal for employers to terminate employees on the basis of protected characteristics such as race, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or medical conditions. 

FEHA prohibits discriminatory firing and addresses issues like harassment and workplace accommodations for disabilities. The act covers employers with five or more employees, including state and local governments, and provides robust protections that often exceed federal standards.

Other Relevant California Statutes and Regulations

In addition to FEHA, several other statutes and regulations bolster employee rights in California:

  • California Labor Code: This comprehensive code covers a wide array of employment issues. Relevant sections include protections against retaliation for wage claims or for taking family leave and specific rules regarding the payment of final wages upon termination.
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA): Similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the CFRA allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons, ensuring they cannot be lawfully terminated for exercising these rights.
  • Whistleblower Protection Laws: These protect employees who report illegal activities or other regulatory violations from being terminated or retaliated against.
  • California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Cal/OSHA): This act includes provisions for the safety and health of workers. Employees cannot be legally terminated for raising concerns about workplace safety under this law.
  • Wage and Hour Laws: These laws ensure employees receive fair compensation for their work. They protect employees from being terminated for asserting their rights under these laws, such as the right to minimum wage and overtime pay.

By being aware of these rights and the protective legal framework in California, you can better understand your legal standing and recourse if you are wrongfully fired. 

person on the cell phone disappointed

How to Identify Wrongful Termination

Determining whether you have been wrongfully terminated can be complex, as it involves understanding specific legal definitions of illegal dismissal. Here’s a guide to help identify if you have been wrongfully terminated:

Termination Following Complaints or Legal Actions

If you were dismissed shortly after filing a complaint about discrimination, harassment, wage issues, or unsafe work conditions, this timing could be a red flag. Your termination may be seen as retaliatory, especially if there is a clear link between your complaint and the subsequent dismissal. Courts often scrutinize the timing of these events, as proximity in time can suggest a causal relationship.

Inconsistent or Vague Reasons for Termination

Be wary if the reasons given for your termination are vague, keep changing, or don’t align with your employment history, especially if you have a record of positive performance reviews. Inconsistent explanations can indicate that the real reason for termination might be unlawful. A documented history of positive performance can be a strong counterpoint to sudden, unclear reasons for dismissal.

Disparate Treatment

If you notice that you are treated differently than other employees in similar situations, particularly if you belong to a protected class under FEHA, this could indicate discrimination. Disparate treatment can include differences in job duties, pay, promotion opportunities, or disciplinary actions that seem unjustified when compared to colleagues. 

Retaliatory Actions

Being fired after engaging in protected activities, such as whistleblowing, union activities, taking family or medical leave, or filing a workers’ compensation claim, can be a sign of wrongful termination. The law protects employees who participate in these activities, and any adverse action following them could be seen as retaliation. Even subtle changes in treatment post-activity can amount to retaliation.

Pattern of Discrimination

If there’s a pattern of the employer dismissing employees who share a specific characteristic (age, race, gender, etc.), it might suggest discriminatory practices. This pattern is not always overt and may require examining the broader context of terminations within the company. Patterns can emerge through statistical data, testimonials from other employees, or a history of similar complaints against the employer.

Legal Recourse and Remedies

If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated, gather and preserve all pertinent evidence, such as emails, performance reviews, and other relevant communications related to your employment and dismissal. Documenting every detail about the events leading to your termination, including dates, times, and the names of those involved, is crucial for building a strong case. Review your employment contract and company policies to understand the terms of your employment and whether any policies were breached during your dismissal.

The legal process often starts with filing a complaint with an appropriate authority, like the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in California or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies may investigate your claims and issue a right-to-sue notice if they find valid grounds, enabling you to file a lawsuit in court.

If your wrongful termination claim is successful, you could be eligible for various remedies. This includes compensation for lost wages and benefits, potential reinstatement to your former position, and damages for emotional distress. Punitive damages may also be awarded in cases of particularly egregious employer conduct. Navigating a wrongful termination claim can be complex, and Heidari Law is here to simplify the search for justice.

How an Employment Lawyer Can Help With a Wrongful Termination Case

An employment attorney like those at Heidari Law can offer tailored legal advice, help you understand your rights, and evaluate the strength of your case. Their role extends beyond mere legal representation; they offer a deep understanding of employment law, adeptly navigate complex legal systems, and provide strategic advice tailored to the specifics of each case.

One of the key benefits of hiring an employment lawyer is their negotiation skills. Many wrongful termination cases are settled outside of court, and an experienced lawyer can negotiate effectively with employers and their legal teams to secure a fair settlement. This negotiation can involve compensation for lost wages, benefits, emotional distress, and sometimes punitive damages. If a case goes to court, your lawyer’s litigation skills ensure that your case is presented compellingly and your rights are robustly defended.

The importance of being well informed about your rights under California law cannot be overstated. Be aware of your protections under statutes like the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Labor Code. If you suspect you have been wrongfully terminated, an experienced attorney can offer invaluable assistance. From navigating the legal complexities to negotiating settlements and representing your interests in court, the right lawyer will get you justice – and a settlement. 

For personalized legal counsel in California, contact Heidari Law Group. Our experienced team is ready to provide you with the support and guidance you need. Whether you’re seeking consultation or require further information on wrongful termination, reach out to Heidari Law Group to ensure your rights are protected and your interests are effectively represented.

FAQs About Wrongful Termination in California

What is wrongful termination in California?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired for reasons that violate the law or their employment contract, such as discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract, or violating public policy.

What does at-will employment mean in California?

At-will employment means employers can terminate employees at any time for any reason, except for illegal reasons like discrimination or retaliation.

What are common examples of wrongful termination?

Common examples include retaliation for reporting illegal activities, discrimination based on race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics, breach of employment contract, and firing for reasons against public policy.

What rights do California employees have against wrongful termination?

California employees are protected under laws like the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and California Labor Code, which prevent discriminatory firing, and retaliation, and ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

How can one identify wrongful termination?

Wrongful termination can be identified through signs like termination following complaints or legal actions, inconsistent or vague reasons for termination, disparate treatment compared to other employees, retaliatory actions, or a company discrimination pattern.

What legal recourse is available for wrongful termination in California?

Victims can file a complaint with agencies like the DFEH or EEOC, and if found valid, they may sue for lost wages, benefits, emotional distress, or punitive damages.

How can an employment lawyer assist in a wrongful termination case?

An employment lawyer provides legal advice, helps understand rights, negotiates settlements, and represents the client in court, ensuring a fair outcome.

What role does the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) play in wrongful termination?

FEHA protects employees from being terminated based on protected characteristics like race, gender, and age and ensures fair treatment in employment matters.

What should one do if they suspect they were wrongfully terminated?

One should document all relevant details, review employment contracts, and consult an experienced employment lawyer for legal advice and possible representation.

Can an employee be terminated for taking family or medical leave in California?

Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and similar statutes, employees are protected from termination for exercising their right to take family or medical leave.

***Disclaimer: This webpage has been crafted by Heidari Law Group solely for educational purposes. The content of this article aims to offer a broad comprehension of the law and does not constitute specific legal advice. By accessing this site and perusing its contents, no attorney-client relationship is established between you and any member of Heidari Law. Additionally, it’s important to note that the legal landscape is subject to continuous change, rendering some of the information provided herein potentially outdated or no longer applicable.

Sam Heidari

Free Case Evaluation 24/7

Contact Us




Rear-End Accidents


Sideswipe Accidents

$1.1 Million

Head-On Accidents

$2.0 Million

T-Bone Accidents

$1.0 Million

Single-Vehicle Accidents

Case Results

$3.3 Million

Motorcycle Accident

$2.0 Million

Car accident

$1.4 Million

Brain Injury

$1.1 Million

Motor Vehicle Accident





Contact Us

24/7 Free Case Evaluation