What Are an Employee’s Rights After Job Termination?

Being terminated from your job can be frightening and stressful. You may be unsure how you will pay your bills and what you need to do about health insurance and other benefits. 

You may wonder if you are being laid off: what are my rights? The same is true if your employer suddenly issues a termination of employment letter. You could be confused and wondering if there is anything you can do regarding a job termination.

If you have lost your job because you were fired or laid off, there are steps you can take to protect your legal rights. Employee termination laws in California protect workers from wrongful termination. However, understanding fundamental employment rights under California law before you file a wrongful termination claim or other employment law claim can be helpful.

California is an At-Will Employment State

Your employer has the right to fire you whenever he chooses without notice and for any reason. However, the reason for job termination cannot be illegal or unlawful. 

You could have a wrongful termination claim if you lost your job because:

Employment Discrimination

Employers in California are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on a protected characteristic. Protected characteristics include, but are not limited to, sex, gender, religion, age (over 40), race, and color.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces state laws related to workplace discrimination and harassment. There are also federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Some of the protections overlap between federal and state laws.

Employment Contracts

California courts recognize implied and written employment contracts. Employment contracts specify the terms of the employer-employee relationship. The contracts may include salary, length of employment, job duties, benefits, and job termination. 

If the court finds the employer violated the terms of a valid employment contract, you could recover damages caused by the wrongful job termination. 

Employer Retaliation 

Employers are not permitted to fire employees in retaliation for specific actions. For example, your employer cannot terminate your job because you filed a whistleblower complaint or a sexual harassment complaint. It is unlawful for an employer to fire an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim or exercising legal rights to benefits.

It is also illegal to fire an employee for a reason that violates public policy. For instance, it is unlawful to fire workers because they served on jury duty, refused to engage in illegal activities, or served on military duty.

You have several rights if you are laid off or terminated from your job. Some of your legal rights may depend on your status as an employee and whether you had an employment contract. 

Some rights that you might be entitled to after job termination include:

Workers’ Compensation 

You may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits after losing your job. The benefits are based on your regular pay before you lost your job. Many employees are eligible for up to 26 weeks of workers’ comp benefits while searching for another job.

Health Insurance

Employers with 20 or more employees must provide terminated employees the option to continue participation in an employer’s health insurance plan. However, the employee must pay the total cost of the insurance premium, which can be expensive. 

Final Pay

California has strict laws regarding final pay after job termination. Employers must issue final paychecks within the time limits set by law. If an employer fails to issue a final paycheck, including unused paid time off and vacation time, the employer may be fined. 

You could receive compensation from the employer for each day the employer misses the deadline. 

Severance Pay

If you have an employment contract, you might be entitled to a severance package. The package may include one or more benefits, including health insurance for a specified period, lump-sum payment, periodic payments, and other items. 

An employer may negotiate a severance package in exchange for a waiver of the right to sue the employer. Some employers offer severance pay as part of a mass layoff or an agreement to accept early retirement. 

There are no federal or state laws that require employers to offer severance pay.

Have You Been Wrongfully Terminated from Your Job?

If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, you have several options. You can file a complaint under state or federal laws. A employment law attorney can analyze your situation and advise you of your options for holding your employer liable for damages caused by the wrongful termination. 

There are deadlines for filing certain employment claims. It is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible to avoid losing your right to file claims and seek compensation for unlawful acts by an employer.