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California's Employees

Your Rights Before and After Being Fired

Losing a job can be a devastating experience, but it’s essential to know that you have rights both before and after being terminated from your employment. California offers significant protections to working parents, whether they are exempt or nonexempt, ensuring fair treatment and providing avenues for recourse in case of unjust termination. Understanding these rights can help navigate the challenging transition period and ensure that your rights are upheld throughout the process.

Working Parents’ Rights Before Being Fired

California follows the doctrine of at-will employment, which means that employers can terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all as long as it is not discriminatory or otherwise illegal. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

If you’re at risk of getting fired in California, you still have several rights that protect you from unjust termination. Understanding these rights can help you navigate the situation and potentially prevent wrongful termination. Here are some key rights you have at work in California if you’re at risk of being fired:

  • Contractual Agreements: If you have an employment contract, it may outline specific conditions under which you can be terminated. These contracts may include terms regarding severance pay, notice periods, or reasons for termination. It’s crucial to review your employment contract to understand your rights fully.
  • Union Representation: If you’re a member of a labor union, you have the right to union representation during disciplinary proceedings or termination hearings. Your union representative can advocate on your behalf and ensure that your rights are upheld under the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Legal Protections Against Discrimination: California law prohibits employers from terminating employees based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, and others. Suppose you believe you’re being targeted for discriminatory reasons. In that case, you have the right to file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) or pursue legal action.
  • Whistleblower Protection: If you report illegal activities, safety violations, or other misconduct in the workplace, you are protected from retaliation by your employer. California law prohibits employers from firing employees for whistleblowing activities.
  • Family and Medical Leave: Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible working parents have the right to take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons without the risk of losing their job.
  • Protected Activities: You have the right to engage in certain protected activities without fear of retaliation. This includes activities such as filing a complaint with a government agency (e.g., labor board), participating in a workplace investigation, or exercising your rights under state and federal labor laws.
  • Notice Requirements: In some cases, California law may require employers to provide advance notice before terminating employees, especially in cases of mass layoffs or plant closures. These notice requirements are outlined in state and federal laws such as the California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and the federal WARN Act.
  • Right to Challenge Termination: If you believe your termination was unjust or unlawful, you have the right to challenge it through various legal avenues. This may include filing a complaint with a government agency, pursuing arbitration or mediation, or filing a lawsuit in civil court.

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with your rights and seek advice from legal professionals or labor organizations if you believe your job is at risk. By understanding and asserting your rights, you can protect yourself from wrongful termination and ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

Workers’ Rights After Being Fired

If you have already been fired, you still have rights under California law. For example, upon termination, your employer is required to provide your final paycheck immediately or within a specified time frame, depending on whether you were fired or quit voluntarily. This paycheck must include all wages earned, including accrued vacation time and any unused benefits.

If you were terminated through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. In California, the Employment Development Department (EDD) administers the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, providing temporary financial assistance to eligible individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Furthermore, if you were fired for a discriminatory reason, such as because of your gender or taking protected leave, you may have grounds to file a wrongful termination claim.

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated or discriminated against, you have the right to take legal action against your employer. You can file a complaint with the CRD or pursue a civil lawsuit for damages.

Results of Being Fired vs. Quitting

Generally, employees who are fired without “cause” (e.g., due to downsizing, restructuring, or not being a good fit for the position) are eligible for unemployment benefits. Those terminated for cause (e.g., misconduct or violation of company policy) might not be eligible.

In contrast, quitting allows an employee to control the narrative around their departure and can sometimes make it easier to explain the transition to future employers. Quitting may avoid the potential stigma associated with being fired, depending on the circumstances. 

However, they often lose the right to unemployment in the process. Some employers may attempt to unlawfully claim on official paperwork that a worker quit their job when they were, in fact, fired. While this protects the employer from paying unemployment insurance premiums, it also prevents the employee from receiving the benefits they’re owed. If you believe this has happened to you, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced employment law attorney to learn your options. 

Employment Attorneys for Wrongful Termination and Misclassification

While being fired when you’re supporting your children can be a challenging and stressful experience, it’s essential to know your rights and options before and after termination. California’s labor laws provide significant protections to workers, ensuring fair treatment and recourse in case of unjust termination. By consulting with the experienced employment law attorneys at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, you can learn your options for receiving the employment benefits you’re owed.

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