Wrongful Termination in California: What You Need to Know

Getting fired is not only heartbreaking and shocking, it can also change anyone’s life for the worse. In certain situations, terminations may be unlawful, forcing employees to raise concerns about the legality and fairness of their termination.

But, which is considered wrongful termination and how can you protect yourself if you encounter it?

Wrongful Termination: By Definition

Wrongful termination is the unlawful discharge of an employee in violation of state and federal employment laws, whether rooted in discrimination, retaliation, or breach of employment contracts. Subject to the terms of arbitration agreements, some employees may be required to resolve wrongful termination disputes behind closed doors rather than taking them to court.

Let’s discuss the concept of at-will employment, the illegal grounds for dismissal, the impact of discrimination, the potential consequences of retaliation, and the protections available to those who exercise their legal rights.

In California, most employment relationships are considered at-will, meaning you or your employer can terminate your employment at any time for any reason, as long as it is not illegal. This means that you have the freedom to quit your job without giving a reason, and your employer has the same freedom to let you go.

The at-will employment doctrine is a fundamental principle in California employment law and applies to both employees and employers. But there are exceptions to voluntary employment.

Your employer cannot terminate your employment for reasons that are illegal or discriminatory, such as race, gender, age or disability. If you believe you have been wrongly terminated, you can take legal action.

On the other hand, at-will employment gives you as an employer the flexibility to make workforce decisions based on your business needs, but you should also be aware of the legal obligations and restrictions when terminating an employee’s contract employee. Wrongful termination claims can lead to costly lawsuits and damage to your company’s reputation.

This concept of at-will employment and the rights and responsibilities it brings to employers and employees can lead to a more fair and lawful working relationship.

Illegal grounds for termination

Under California law, there are several specific reasons that are considered illegal for termination.

One of these reasons is discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation. It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee solely on the basis of any of these protected characteristics.

Another illegal reason for termination is retaliation. If an employee exercises their rights, such as filing a workplace harassment complaint or participating in an investigation, it is illegal for the employer to terminate the employment contract in retaliation.

Retaliation can manifest itself in a variety of forms, including dismissal, demotion, reduction in pay or hours, or even creating a hostile work environment. It doesn’t have to be blatant or direct; subtle actions or changes in treatment that negatively impact the employee may also be considered retaliation.

Employees also have the right to take leave for various reasons, such as family or medical leave, and it is illegal for employers to fire them for exercising these rights.

It is also illegal for employers to fire employees for participating in protected activities, such as whistleblowing or reporting illegal activities within the company. California law also prohibits termination based on an employee’s political activities or affiliations.

If you believe you have been wrongfully fired for one of these illegal reasons, consult an experienced employment attorney. They can help you understand your rights and determine the best course of action to seek justice and compensation for your wrongful termination.

Protections for exercising legal rights

In California, employees are protected by several laws that ensure their rights are not violated by their employers. These protections exist to help you exercise your rights without fear of wrongful termination.

For example, the California Labor Code prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who engage in protected activities, such as filing complaints or participating in investigations related to workplace safety, discrimination, or wage violations. This means that if you exercise your legal rights by reporting illegal activities or unfair treatment in the workplace, your employer cannot retaliate against you by terminating your employment.

Similarly, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) also protects employees from retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices or participating in law enforcement. This means that if you speak out against discriminatory practices or assist with investigations or legal proceedings related to discrimination, your employer cannot retaliate against you.


If you find yourself facing a wrongful termination situation, it means you understand the state’s laws and protections.

Keep in mind that wrongful termination can occur if you are fired for illegal reasons, such as discrimination or retaliation. California law aims to protect the rights of employees and provide legal remedies for those who have been wrongfully fired.

By being aware of your rights and seeking legal assistance if necessary, you can take the right steps to protect yourself in such situations.

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