The phrase “wrongful termination” applies when an employee has been fired or forced to quit or resign for illegal reasons. If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, you are required to file a claim within a certain amount of time. If you miss the deadline, your claim will be barred and you will not be able to file a lawsuit.
The deadline, known as the statute of limitations, depends on the type of job the employee had and the reason for his or her termination. Since California is an at-will employment state, employees can be fired for almost any reason, unless that reason is illegal or violates public policy.
Employees who are terminated or forced to quit because of a reason that violates public policy will have two years to file a lawsuit. An employee may have a claim for wrongful termination if he or she is terminated for performing an act that public policy would encourage, or for refusing to do an act that public policy would condemn. For instance, if a woman is fired because she was required to perform jury duty for a week, she may have a claim for wrongful termination, or a claim for gender discrimination. Society recognizes that the public as a whole needs jurors, and firing a person for fulfilling her civic duty would likely be a wrongful termination. In the same way, an employee who is fired for refusing to illegally alter a company’s accounting records would also have a claim for wrongful termination because forcing an employee to commit a crime also violates public policy.
Alternatively, a person may have a claim for wrongful termination if they were fired for an illegal or discriminatory reason. A person who left a job due to discrimination or harassment can file a claim under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, or under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
If the employee chooses to sue under federal law, he or she has 180 days from the date of termination to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will review the claim and either begin its own investigation into the matter, or will decline to pursue the case. If the EEOC does not pursue the case, it will issue a Notice of Right to Sue, which will allow the employee to file a civil lawsuit in court within 90 days of the notice. Alternatively, the employee can file a federal claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). In that case, the employee has 300 days to file a claim of wrongful termination.
If the employee chooses to use the state’s FEHA law, he or she must file a claim within one year of the date of termination. The DFEH will also review the claim and decide if the agency will pursue the issue. If not, the DFEH will issue its own Notice of Right to Sue, and the employee will have one year from the date of the notice to file a lawsuit.
These rules apply only to people who work in the private sector. Federal employees and job applicants have different and more stringent deadlines. If a person is a federal employee, he or she must contact an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor within 45 days of the date that the discrimination occurred. The EEO Counselor will provide the employee with the opportunity to participate in counseling or alternative dispute resolution. If the EEO Counselor cannot resolve the issue, the counselor will issue the employee a notice which will give that employee 15 days to file a formal complaint.
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