Is It Illegal To Be Fired Without Notice in California?

There aren’t many more things heartbreaking than doing your job well only to be told by your employer that you’ve been fired without any warning – without any notice. Generally, if you have a written contract or a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), your employer must have a good reason for terminating your contract.

If you are an “at will” employee (there is no contract or CBA), then unless an exception applies – you can be fired without notice. Most employees in California are at-will employees. This means that they work from paycheck to paycheck. The at-will worker hopes that helping their employer do well will be sufficient – but there’s no guarantee that the employer won’t fire you. The trade-off for at-will employees is that they can leave the job without giving their employer and prior notice too. This means if you receive a better job offer or just want to change careers, you don’t owe your employer any duty to stay at the job.

Are there exceptions to at-will employment

If you have a written contract or a CBA, your employer must comply with the terms of that employment contract.

There are also federal and California laws that do protect workers from discrimination. If your employer fires you because of an identifying characteristic that is protected by federal or state law, our employment lawyers can help you. We’ll explain what discrimination laws apply. If your employer is required to comply with those laws, then you will be able to file a claim to seek reinstatement of your job and compensation for all your lost pay and benefits while you were not working. In addition, you may be entitled to legal fees and statutory damages.

Some of the laws that protect employees from a wrongful termination – a termination without notice that violates a federal or state law include:

  • The US Civil Rights Act of 1964. This federal law protects employees who are wrongfully fired based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act. This law protects employees who are wrongfully terminated because they have a disability.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act This law protects workers who are 40 and older.
  • California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA). FEHA offers numerous protections for California employees.
  • Retaliation laws protect workers who are wrongfully terminated because they filed a whistleblower claim, assert a legal right or other retaliation laws.

Employers may also be required to comply with any company policies that regulate the conditions for employee termination without cause. Often, these policies are set forth in written employee manuals that our employment lawyers will review to determine if your job is protected. 

Employers who have company employment policies usually do require that the employer, human resources, a supervisor, or someone in a position of authority inform an at-will employee that his/her performance standards are not up to par. The employee is then given a specific amount of time to improve his/her performance. In some cases, there may be an in-company appeal process.

The company policy may not be binding – so if you are told your job performance isn’t good enough – you should expect that you may be terminated soon – unless there’s a substantial improvement or a good reason for your poor job review.

Are you entitled to severance pay or other benefits if you are terminated without notice?

If you have a written contract or a CBA, then you will likely be entitled to severance pay if you are terminated.  Severance pay is more than just the amount you’re already owed for the work you did. Severance pay is additional pay and additional benefits – usually for a period of weeks. Severance pay is a way of helping employees while they look for new work. Severance pay is usually based on how long you have worked for the company. The benefits may include insurance benefits, retirement benefits, relocation benefits, stock options, and other benefits.

If you are an at-will employee, then whether you can receive severance pay is a matter of company policy. You should not expect severance pay if you are an at-will employee. It’s a nice bonus if you receive it.

What compensation can I claim if I was terminated without notice?

Employees are generally entitled to all the wages they’ve earned through the date of termination. They also should be able to claim compensation for any unused vacation pay and any commissions that were earned. Our employment lawyers will hold employers to their obligation to pay what you’ve already earned.

When should an employee suspect he/she may be fired?

Often an employee who is fired did have some indirect warnings – even if the employer didn’t directly say your job is in jeopardy. Possible warnings include:

  • Your employer, manager, or supervisor criticizes your work more than usual
  • You were disciplined for violating a company rule
  • You’re being excluded from company meetings and company social events
  • You’re not being offered the same work as you did before
  • Your access to your superiors is limited
  • You received a demotion
  • Other signs of exclusion

As a practical matter, if there are negative signs, you should seek a meeting with your superiors to discuss your employment status and how you can improve your in-company job prospects.

To discuss your employment rights if you are fired without notice, call the Miracle Mile Law Group now. You can call us at (888) 244-0706 or contact us for a FREE consultation