What Is Considered Wrongful Termination in California?

Frank S. Clowney III

Wrongful termination can be a particularly complicated issue. California is an “at-will” state, which means that employers are free to terminate employment at any time for any reason. However, the reason must not be in violation of California law. It can be difficult to know what may be a violation and how that can be proven. The complicated nature of this issue leaves many people asking, “What is considered wrongful termination in California?”

What Is Considered Wrongful Termination in California?

Wrongful termination is a term that refers to several possible employment law violations, but they all have the uniting element of the employee having their position terminated unlawfully.

While California employers don’t need to provide a justification for the termination of employment, the reason why they have decided to terminate an employee must not be unlawful. To this end, the state of California has passed a number of different laws, primarily in the labor code, that offer protections to employees on several different grounds.


One of the protections against wrongful termination applies to an act of retaliation against an employee. This retaliation could be for whistleblowing if an employee brings to light a violation of company policy internally or reports unlawful activity on the part of the business. A company that fires someone for these reasons is in violation of the law.

Another potential form of retaliation may be if an employee files a different claim in violation of employment law, such as for discrimination, and the employee is then fired. Employees who file employment law claims, and even those who participate in another employee’s claim as a witness or otherwise, are protected against wrongful termination.


Another possible form of wrongful termination is discrimination. California law has created a number of protected classes of employees, and firing an employee for belonging to a protected class is forbidden. Some of these protections made it illegal for an employer to fire an employee for their race, color, sex, gender identity, disability, and sexual orientation, among others.

Participation in Lawful Activities

It’s also worth noting that California employers are prohibited from firing employees for their activities outside of work so long as those activities are lawful. Employers are also prohibited from firing workers who join a labor union or participate in any union activities. If anyone believes that they may have been a victim of wrongful termination, it’s important that they speak with an employment lawyer. 


Q: Does an Employer Need to Provide a Reason for Termination in California?

A: An employer in California does not need to provide a reason for termination in California. Employment in California is what is referred to as “at-will.” This means that an employer or employee can end the employment arrangement at any time, so long as it isn’t in violation of any laws. In other words, for a termination to be seen as wrongful, it is necessary to prove that it was, in some way, in violation of the law. Not giving a reason does not necessarily mean that a company is in violation.

Q: What Does a California Wrongful Termination Lawyer Do?

A: A California wrongful termination lawyer does a number of tasks in service of representing their clients and seeking fair compensation. The process often begins with evaluating the circumstances around the termination and determining if there is a possible valid claim against the employer.

If there is, the lawyer is responsible for the legal process of seeking compensation, including representing their clients in any hearings and filing the necessary paperwork and petitions. However, that can often be avoided and a settlement negotiated if both sides can come to an agreement that works for them.

Q: How Long Do I Have to File for Wrongful Termination in California?

A: How long you have to file for wrongful termination in California can vary, depending on the kind of violation. Wrongful termination covers a broad range of unlawful reasons why an employer may choose to terminate an employee’s position.

There are a variety of laws that are meant to address forms of discrimination or retaliation on the part of employers, with termination for these reasons being one of the potentially prohibited actions. These laws, though, have varying statutes of limitations, which means that the law will dictate how long you have to file a claim. Often, you will have between one, two, and three years to file, depending on the situation.

Q: Will It Be Better to Settle a Wrongful Termination Claim or Take It to Court?

A: Whether it is better to settle a wrongful termination claim or take it to court is going to depend on the situation. Often, it can be quicker to settle a claim. Therefore, for those looking to move on quickly and receive their funds sooner, a settlement may be the better option.

A settlement could mean receiving less compensation than you would receive if you were to win in court, but going to court is uncertain and could mean coming away with nothing. These factors will have to be weighed in light of whatever you’re being offered in your situation.

Let Us Know If You May Have Been Wrongfully Terminated

Getting fired is a difficult experience, and it’s hard to figure out what you need to do next. Even more frustrating, though, is getting fired when you know that it wasn’t deserved or right. It’s possible that your firing may even have been in violation of the law. Discrimination, retaliation, and other issues could mean that your firing was in violation of wrongful termination laws. If you suspect that this may be the case, then it’s critical that you find a California wrongful termination lawyer to work with.

At The Law Office of Frank S. Clowney III, we understand the nuances of wrongful termination and can help identify if you’ve likely been a victim. We also understand how to seek compensation for you on your behalf, whether that be through negotiating a fair settlement or through making your strongest case in court. If you’ve been terminated and believe that it may have been done so in violation of the law, then contact our team to let us evaluate your case.