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Ochoa & Calderon

Most Common Illegal Reasons to be Fired From Work in California

Two male and one female employees working in the office

California workers are protected from wrongful termination under both California and federal law. While California is an at-will state, meaning employers can fire workers for nearly any reason or no reason at all, there are a few bases for termination that are unlawful. Workers who are fired for an illegal reason can sue employers for a variety of remedies, including lost wages and benefits, reinstatement, and consequential damages. Read on for a discussion of the most common reasons for termination that are against state and federal law. If you suspect you’ve been terminated for an illegal reason, call a seasoned Riverside wrongful termination lawyer for help.

Termination for a Discriminatory Reason

Covered California employers (those with at least five employees) cannot discriminate against employees for unlawful reasons. That includes wrongful termination based on the employee’s protected characteristic or membership in a protected class. Most of the same restrictions are enforceable under federal and California law, although California law covers more employers.

In California, employees cannot be terminated based on any of the following:

  • Race, Color, National Origin, or Ancestry
  • Religion
  • Age (over 40)
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender, Gender Identity, or Gender Expression
  • Disability, Physical or Mental
  • Medical Condition
  • Citizenship
  • Political affiliation
  • Marital Status
  • Pregnancy
  • Military or Veteran Status

Unlawful Retaliation

In addition to protection from discrimination, California law protects employees from retaliation for exercising certain legally-protected activities. California employees are protected by whistleblower and employee rights laws when they report violations of the law either internally or externally. Workers cannot be fired in response to any of the following actions:

  • Reporting a violation of the law (discrimination, harassment, criminal behavior, etc.) internally to a supervisor, HR, or another company representative
  • Reporting a violation of the law externally, such as to the EEOC or another governmental agency
  • Participating in a lawsuit alleging employment law or other legal violations
  • Cooperating in an investigation concerning employment law or other legal violations
  • Acting as a witness in an investigation or lawsuit concerning alleged unlawful conduct
  • Reporting unsafe working conditions internally or externally

Workers are also protected from retaliation for taking steps to curb unlawful conduct. Workers cannot be fired for trying to prevent harassment or discrimination, resisting harassment or discrimination perpetrated against themselves, or for refusing to participate in unlawful conduct, including harassment, discrimination, or criminal acts.

California employees are also protected from termination for exercising certain worker rights. Workers cannot be fired in retaliation for:

  • Taking protected family or medical leave
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim or obtaining benefits
  • Obtaining disability benefits
  • Requesting an accommodation for a disability or religious beliefs
  • Attending jury duty


While not precisely illegal grounds for termination, the WARN Act sets certain restrictions on how employers can conduct massive layoffs. Employers with at least 75 employees must provide at least 60 days’ notice to staff before engaging in massive layoffs or closing/relocating a facility. Workers who are not given proper notice can recover wages and benefits they would have been paid for those 60 days.

Get the Damages You Are Owed After Your Illegal Firing

For help recovering after a wrongful termination in Southern California, call Ochoa & Calderón to discuss your case with a seasoned, dedicated California labor and employment attorney. Call 951-901-4444 in Riverside or 844-401-0750 toll-free throughout Southern California.

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