California labor law regarding termination provides a wide net of protection for employees. The state's discrimination laws are more expansive than those states using just federal guidelines for equal employment opportunity. Employees in California also have the right to file a claim against an employer who terminates employees unfairly or for discriminatory reasons.
At-Will Employment Rules
California is an at-will state for employment. This means employees and workers are under no obligation to continue a working relationship in the absence of an employment contractor. An employer is free to terminate an employee at any time without notice. Likewise, an employee may quit for any reason without providing the employer any advance notice. An employer must still comply with state and federal regulations regarding discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Terminating an employee through no fault of her own may give the employee grounds to receive unemployment compensation from the state.
Terminated Worker Wages
In California, when an employer chooses to fire an employee without advance notice, the employer must pay the employee all wages owed plus any accrued vacation time immediately. Exceptions to this rule apply to various industries in California including oil drilling and production, and perishable fruit, fish or vegetable production. An employee in these industries must receive final pay within 24 to 72 hours from date of termination. An employee in the motion picture industry must receive final pay by the next normal payday. An employer who willfully fails to pay an employee proper final wages may incur a waiting time penalty. This is a fee charged daily to the employer and is equal to the worker's daily wages for a maximum of 30 days.
Employment Under Contract
Terminating an employee under an employment contract requires the employer to show "good cause." This is proven in a variety of ways from displaying evidence of worker negligence, routine violations of company policy and deliberate insubordination. The employee may have the right to pursue legally binding arbitration to determine if termination is within the right of the employer. A third-party arbitrator hears evidence from both sides and decides if the employee's termination should stand or not.
It illegal under state and federal law for an employer to terminate an employee because of the worker's race, gender, ethnicity, age, religion, country of origin, disability or pregnancy status. California law also makes discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation illegal. An employee may file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. The employee also has the right to speak to representatives of the California Labor Commissioner regarding the complaint and the discriminatory practices of the former employer.
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