For many employees, losing a job is an unexpected shock that comes with many difficult questions. Employees often wonder, If I get fired, what am I entitled to receive in terms of benefits? How long can my boss hold my final paycheck? Should I expect severance? What if I think I was fired illegally?

In this blog post, we’ll address some common questions California employees have about their rights after termination. We’ll also offer tips for identifying if you’ve been wrongfully terminated and your options for taking legal action.

If I Get Fired, What Am I Entitled to Get from My Employer?

Learning you’ve lost your job can be an incredibly disempowering experience. However, employees who’ve been dismissed can still enjoy a number of legal rights and benefits through their former employer. Let’s look at some essential employee rights after termination to know about.

Final Paycheck

Even if you’re fired, you’re still entitled to timely compensation for the work you performed. California has strict requirements for employers when it comes to issuing final paychecks. If you are fired or laid off, state employment law requires your employer to pay you all your unpaid wages on your last day of work. Any unused vacation or paid time off you’re entitled to should also be included in this final check.

If your employer doesn’t have your paycheck ready on your last day, or they don’t pay you all the compensation you’re owed, they could face a waiting time penalty

Health Coverage

You also have access to group health insurance coverage for some time after you’re dismissed. Under the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), eligible employees can receive healthcare at an employer’s group rate up to 18 months after termination. To be eligible for COBRA’s extended health coverage, you must work for an employer with 20 or more employees. Be aware: since your employer is no longer subsidizing your coverage, you must pay the full premium for any care you access. 

Unemployment Compensation 

Employees also have the right to apply for financial support from the state after losing a job. California’s unemployment benefits program offers compensation to eligible individuals who lose their jobs for reasons outside their control. The available benefits are usually far less than your regular weekly pay, but they can help support you for up to 26 weeks while you search for a new position.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you have to meet specific state criteria. For example, your termination must not have been “for cause,” such as insubordination, absenteeism, or other misconduct. Employees terminated because of bad behavior are generally ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Severance 

Employees with a severance agreement can expect additional payments and benefits after termination. This could include: 

  • Severance pay,
  • Job references,
  • Access to outplacement services,
  • Relocation assistance, and
  • Extended life and disability insurance.

Severance pay could come as a lump sum or in installments. The amount you receive can vary, but it’s often tied to the time you worked at your company. Severance agreements are frequently included in employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements, but they can also be stand-alone documents.

Be aware: no state or federal law requires employers to offer severance when they fire you. Only employees with severance agreements are entitled to receive these benefits. A severance package is technically a legal contract. An employer offers departing employees certain benefits, and in exchange, the employees agree to certain conditions, e.g., not to take legal action, to follow a non-compete agreement, etc. If either you or your employer breaks the terms of the agreement, there could be legal consequences.

Can I Sue My Employer for Wrongful Termination?

It depends. Many employees who feel they’ve been fired unfairly understandably want to know if they can take legal action against their employer. However, legitimate wrongful termination cases happen much less often than employees think.

This is because most employees in California are considered “at will.” Being an at-will employee means that you and your employer have the right to end your employment at any time and for any legal reason. 

Wrongful termination happens when you’re fired for reasons that specifically violate state or federal law. Here are some situations when a firing could be illegal:

  • It’s based on your race, sex, disability, or other protected characteristic. California and federal law bans discrimination in hiring, firing, and any employment decisions. If your identity or personal characteristics were a factor in your termination, that could be a violation of employment discrimination law.
  • It’s punishment for reporting wrongdoing. Retaliation against employees who speak out about illegal activity or misconduct at work is against the law. If you filed a complaint about harassment, wage theft, safety concerns, or other unethical behavior before your firing, that could be a sign of potential retaliation. 
  • It’s retaliation for exercising your legal rights. It’s illegal for an employer to punish you for acting per your rights as an employee. In legal terms, this is called a violation of public policy. Protected activities include applying for workers’ compensation, serving on a jury, and refusing to participate in illegal activity. 
  • It’s a violation of your employment contract. Some employment contracts state that employers must follow a specific procedure when disciplining or firing someone. For example, an employee’s collective bargaining agreement could require their boss to have “good cause” for terminating them. If your boss ignores the rules in your employment contract when they fire you, they risk legal penalties for breach of contract. 

Contact an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer immediately if you suspect one of these illegal motives is behind your firing. An attorney can evaluate your situation and determine if your rights have been violated. Under California law, employees can take legal action against an employer who terminates them for illegal reasons. With the help of a seasoned employment lawyer, employees could recover financial compensation and even job reinstatement from a successful wrongful termination claim. 

Tomorrow Law™: Trusted Advocates for California’s Workers 

Even being fired, an employee’s rights don’t end. All companies, no matter how large, are subject to the law. That’s where we come in. The team of attorneys at Tomorrow Law™ has built a reputation around California as tireless advocates for employees and their families. For the past decade, we’ve helped thousands of California employees get justice for unfair and abusive treatment at the hands of employers. Accessibility is our priority, and we offer free consultations for anyone experiencing an employment dispute. Contact our office online or by phone to schedule your appointment today.  

Author Photo

David Bibiyan is a distinguished attorney at Tomorrow Law, renowned for his expertise in employment law. With a strong focus on representing employees in various workplace disputes, he has become a trusted advocate for those facing discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and wage and hour issues. Bibiyan’s approach is characterized by a deep understanding of both state and federal employment laws, ensuring that his clients receive knowledgeable and effective representation. His commitment to justice is evident in his dedication to each case, where he meticulously works to secure the best possible outcomes for his clients. Bibiyan’s reputation is built on a foundation of successful case resolutions, marked by his skillful negotiation and, when necessary, aggressive litigation strategies. His work at Tomorrow Law reflects a genuine passion for defending workers’ rights and promoting fair employment practices.

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