When an employee is terminated from his or her job in California, he or she does have certain rights.
For example, an employee who has just been fired or laid off has the right to receive a final paycheck and has the option of continuing health insurance coverage in addition to being eligible for severance pay and unemployment benefits.
If you have just been fired or laid off, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your rights. But first, it is important for employees to know and fully understand what their rights are.
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At Will Employment
In California, employment is "at will." This means the employer has the right to terminate an employee at any time for any reason as long as it is not illegal or in violation of an agreement. However, job termination may be unlawful or illegal if:
- A written or implied contract dictates the terms of the employer-employee relationship. When it comes to determining the validity of an implied agreement, courts typically look at the employer's promise of continued employment and whether the employer failed to abide by their practices when it came to job termination and the length of employment.
- The employee's termination is done in violation of public policy. An example of such a job termination is firing an employee for serving on a jury, in the military or for refusing to engage in illicit activity.
- The employee was terminated in violation of laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment. Employers are prohibited under federal and state laws from discriminating against employees based on protected characteristics such as race, color, age, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender, etc.
- The employee was terminated as retaliation for a specific act that is protected by law. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for filing a worker's compensation claim for an injury sustained on the job. An employer also cannot terminate an employee for reporting sexual harassment, discrimination or an unsafe workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Employee's Rights After Termination
If you have just been terminated from your job, here are some of your legal rights.
In California, the time limit for an employee to receive his or her final paycheck depends on whether the employee quit or was fired.
California, in fact, has some of the strictest laws in this regard. In this state, an employee who is fired or laid off is entitled to a final paycheck right away, at the time of the termination.
If an employee quits, however, the employer is required to provide the final paycheck within 72 hours.
If the employee quits without providing any notice, the employer must provide the final paycheck within 72 hours. But, if an employee gives at least 72 hours' notice, he or she has the right to receive the final paycheck on his or her last day at work.
California also protects employees by requiring employers to include all unused vacation or paid time off in the final paycheck.
This amount must also be paid by the time limits set forth under labor laws. In California, employees are entitled to all of their unused vacation or paid time off on termination, irrespective of the employer's policy.
A severance agreement is a contractual agreement between an employer and an employee.
Typically, it states that the employer will provide a terminated employee with a severance package in exchange for the employee's promise that he or she won't sue the employer.
A severance package may include a lump sum payment, health insurance, continuing payments and outplacement program services.
Generally speaking, employers in California are not required by state employee laws to provide layoff or severance pay to their employees.
There is no state or federal law that requires employers to pay severance to employees when they are terminated.
However, if legal rights to severance pay are enumerated in the employee handbook or a layoff notice, it would amount to a promise that must be honored.
Also, if a severance package was negotiated and agreed upon by the employer and employee as part of the employment contract, the employer has an obligation to provide it at the time of termination.
When an employer fails to do so that would amount to breach (violation) of the contract.
Employees who have been terminated have the right to health insurance coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act or COBRA, which grants terminated employees and their families the right to continued healthcare coverage for a limited period.
The law requires employers with 20 or more employees to provide the option of continued participation in the employer's health insurance plan.
In such cases, the employee must pay the full cost of coverage. In fact, employees will typically pay 102% of the plan's cost.
A person who has lost his or her job may also be able to receive unemployment benefits.
If eligible, the individual may receive compensation while looking for another job. What the employee receives as compensation will be less than his or her regular pay. The calculation is based on a percentage of the worker's pay over a certain time period. Typically, you can receive 26 weeks of benefits. Some workers may qualify for up to an additional 20 weeks of unemployment benefits.
What Should I Do If I Was Wrongfully Terminated?
While being terminated from your job can be a traumatic experience, it is important to understand that you have certain rights as an employee or former employee.
If you believe that your employer has violated your rights or has wrongfully or illegally terminated you, it is important that you contact an experienced employment attorney who can help fight for those, hold the employer accountable and secure fair compensation for your losses. Utilizing the skills of an experienced employment lawyer is an important step towards obtaining compensation.
The knowledgeable lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley offer a no-win-no-fee guarantee to their clients.
We do not charge you fees until we secure compensation for you. Call us at (818) 990-8300 for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.