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How to report wrongful termination in California?

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Wrongful termination is a situation that no employee wants to go through. This unfortunate experience leaves employees grappling with major setbacks in their career and financial plans. In California, employees have multiple avenues to pursue legal action and report cases of wrongful termination.

Understanding wrongful termination in California

Before we delve into the topic of how to report wrongful termination in California, let’s first understand what it means and what constitutes it. Wrongful termination in California is when an employer unlawfully terminates an employee, either in breach of their employment contract or violating state or federal law.

However, it’s important to note that not all terminations that feel unfair or unjust are necessarily wrongful terminations. For example, if an employee is fired for consistently violating company policies or for poor performance, it may not be considered wrongful termination.

What constitutes wrongful termination?

Some of the types of wrongful termination in California may include discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, pregnancy, or disability, retaliation, or whistleblowing. Discrimination can take many forms, such as passing over an employee for a promotion or pay raise, denying them training or development opportunities, or creating a hostile work environment. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee for engaging in a protected activity, such as reporting workplace discrimination or harassment.

In some cases, employers may also wrongfully terminate an employee to avoid paying their wages or benefits, or for taking legal time off work under Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is known as wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

California’s at-will employment exception

It’s worth noting that California is an at-will employment state, which means that employers can fire an employee at any time, with or without notice and for any reason, as long as they’re not violating any laws. However, this does not mean that employers have absolute power to terminate employees without consequence.

Under California law, there are certain exceptions to the at-will employment rule. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for refusing to engage in illegal activity or for reporting workplace safety violations. Additionally, some employees may be protected by an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement that limits the employer’s ability to terminate them.

Protected classes and activities in California

But there are some exceptions to this rule, such as when an employer is firing an employee based on their protected class or for engaging in a protected activity. California has strict laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment in workplaces under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Protected classes in California include race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, age, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and military or veteran status. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on any of these characteristics.

Protected activities in California include reporting workplace discrimination or harassment, filing a complaint or lawsuit against an employer, participating in an investigation or hearing related to workplace discrimination or harassment, or requesting accommodation for a disability or religious belief.

If an employee believes they have been wrongfully terminated in violation of California law, they may have legal recourse. They should consult with an experienced employment law attorney to discuss their options for filing a complaint or lawsuit.

Steps to take before reporting wrongful termination

If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated in California, there are some crucial steps you need to take before reporting it to the relevant authorities.

Documenting the termination

The first thing to do is to document the entire event with as much detail as possible. This includes the date and time of the termination, conversations and interactions with the employer or HR, written correspondence such as emails and letters, and any supporting documentation.

It’s important to keep a record of any conversations you have with your employer or HR leading up to the termination. This can include emails, text messages, and phone calls. If you had any performance reviews or evaluations prior to the termination, make sure to keep those as well.

You should also document any reasons your employer gave for terminating your employment. If they claimed it was due to performance issues, make sure to keep any evidence that disputes this claim, such as positive performance reviews or awards you may have received.

Gathering evidence of wrongful termination

You should also gather any other evidence such as witness statements, performance reviews, and company policies that may support your claim of wrongful termination. It’s essential to have a strong case when reporting wrongful termination to the authorities.

Witness statements can be particularly helpful in proving your case. If there were any colleagues or supervisors who witnessed the events leading up to your termination, ask them to provide a written statement detailing what they saw and heard. This can help corroborate your version of events.

Performance reviews and evaluations can also be useful in demonstrating that you were a valuable employee who was terminated without cause. Make sure to collect any positive feedback you received from your employer or colleagues.

Finally, it’s important to review your company’s policies and procedures to determine if your termination was in violation of any of these rules. If your employer did not follow their own policies regarding termination, this can be used as evidence of wrongful termination.

Consulting with an employment attorney

It’s advisable to consult with an experienced employment attorney during this time to review your case and determine if you have a legitimate claim for wrongful termination. An attorney can also advise you on what not to do and guide you through the entire process.

An employment attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options. They can also provide guidance on how to approach your employer and the appropriate authorities to report your wrongful termination.

In addition, an attorney can help you negotiate a settlement with your employer or file a lawsuit if necessary. They can represent you in court and help you obtain the compensation you deserve for your wrongful termination.

Overall, taking these steps can help you build a strong case for wrongful termination and protect your legal rights as an employee. It’s important to act quickly and seek legal advice as soon as possible to ensure that your case is handled properly.

Reporting wrongful termination to the appropriate authorities

Filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)

If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated due to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH is responsible for enforcing California’s employment laws, including those that prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace. The DFEH investigates claims of discrimination and harassment, and can represent you in court if necessary. The DFEH also provides free mediation services to help resolve disputes between employees and employers.

When filing a complaint with the DFEH, you will need to provide detailed information about your employment history, the circumstances surrounding your termination, and any evidence you have to support your claim. The DFEH will then investigate your claim and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of wrongful termination.

Reporting to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal employment laws. In California, the EEOC has offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The EEOC investigates claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, and disability.

When filing a complaint with the EEOC, you will need to provide detailed information about your employment history, the circumstances surrounding your termination, and any evidence you have to support your claim. The EEOC will then investigate your claim and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of wrongful termination.

Contacting the California Labor Commissioner’s Office

If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated and your employer owed you wages, commissions, or overtime pay, you can contact the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. The Labor Commissioner’s Office is responsible for enforcing California’s wage and hour laws, which require employers to pay employees for all hours worked, including overtime, and to provide meal and rest breaks.

When contacting the Labor Commissioner’s Office, you will need to provide detailed information about your employment history, the wages and hours you were owed, and any evidence you have to support your claim. The Labor Commissioner’s Office will then investigate your case and help you recover lost wages if they find your employer violated the law.

It’s important to note that there are strict deadlines for filing complaints with the DFEH, EEOC, and Labor Commissioner’s Office. In most cases, you must file a complaint within one year of the date of your termination. If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated, it’s important to act quickly and seek the advice of an experienced employment attorney.

Pursuing legal action against your former employer

If you have been wrongfully terminated by your employer, you have several options for pursuing legal action. While it can be a difficult and emotional process, it’s important to stand up for your rights and seek justice for the harm that has been done to you.

Filing a lawsuit for wrongful termination

If none of the above options result in a satisfactory outcome, you can pursue a lawsuit against your former employer for wrongful termination. This involves filing a complaint with the court and presenting evidence to support your claim. Your attorney will help you navigate the legal system and build a strong case.

It’s important to note that wrongful termination cases can be complex and difficult to prove. You will need to show that your employer violated a specific law or public policy by terminating your employment. This could include discrimination based on race, gender, age, or disability, retaliation for whistleblowing, or breach of contract.

Potential damages and compensation

The damages and compensation you can receive depends on the specific circumstances of your case. For example, you may receive compensation for lost wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages. Lost wages may include not only the salary you would have earned if you had not been wrongfully terminated, but also any benefits, bonuses, or commissions you would have received.

Emotional distress damages are intended to compensate you for the psychological harm you have suffered as a result of the wrongful termination. This could include anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Punitive damages are intended to punish the employer for their wrongful conduct and deter them from engaging in similar behavior in the future.

Settling a wrongful termination case

In some cases, your employer may make a settlement offer to avoid going through a lengthy legal process. Your attorney can advise you on the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting a settlement offer. It’s important to take into account the emotional and financial costs of pursuing a case, along with the likelihood of success, before making any decisions.

Keep in mind that accepting a settlement offer means that you will not be able to pursue further legal action against your employer for the same issue. However, it can also provide a quicker resolution and avoid the uncertainty and stress of a trial.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue legal action against your former employer is a personal one. It’s important to consider all of your options and consult with an experienced attorney to determine the best course of action for your specific situation.


Wrongful termination is a serious situation that can have a significant impact on someone’s career and well-being. If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated in California, it’s essential to understand your legal options before taking any action. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can report your case to the appropriate authorities and pursue legal action to seek compensation for your losses.

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