"When litigation is the only way to justice..."



Wrongful Termination

If you have been terminated from your job or are working in a hostile environment, you need to know if you have any legal rights that you can enforce. Most people that are terminated from their jobs or work in an extremely hostile environment do not have any legal claim that they can assert against the company. In many cases, it is perfectly legal for the employer to terminate you in an un-fair manner, to be rude to you, to yell at you, and to refuse to tell you why you were terminated. This website will help you understand why that is the law and also explain when a termination or hostile work environment can entitle you to legal compensation. If you feel you do have a legal claim and would like to enforce your rights, please contact my office as soon as possible because you can greatly benefit from early and aggressive assistance.

Basics of At-Will Employment

The first thing that you need to determine is whether your employment is considered "at-will." The vast majority of employment in California is considered "at-will." Unless you work under a union contract or have signed a contract that guarantees you a job for a period of time, your employment will likely be considered "at-will." There are cases where oral promises or guarantees alter the "at-will" nature of your employment, but these cases can be difficult to prove. Typically, these will come up when the employer has an "unwritten" policy that employees are only fired for cause. Despite popular belief, oral contract are fully enforcible. The problem is proving that one exists and what the terms are.

If your employment is "at-will," the employer can terminate you at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. The term "any reason" means that the employer can terminate you for an un-fair reason, they can terminate you based on a lie, they can terminate you because they "suspect" you did something wrong but have no real proof, they can terminate you without notice, they can terminate you by email, they can terminate you by text-message. For at-will employees, the balance is largely in the employer's favor. What you need to determine is whether the employer violated one of the laws that protects employees.

Can I be fired by a text message?

The simple answer is Yes. While it is unprofessional and rude, unless you have an employment contract or the real reason for the termination is an illegal reason, as discussed below, firing via text message is perfectly legal. Simply being fired by text message does not give you a legal claim against the employer. However, you must also understand California's wage laws as they relate to terminations. Under Cal. Lab. Code 201, if you are terminated, all the wages you have earned are due and payable immediately. There is a penalty of one day's wage for each day they are not paid to you, up to 30 days. You are not allowed to hide and keep accumulating the penalty, but the wages are due as soon as you are terminated. As such, a text saying, "You're fired. Your final check is ready for you to pick it up" would probably not incur any penalties, even if you didn't pick it up until the next day. However, "You're fired. Come in tomorrow and get your final check" would likely get you an additional 1-day of penalties. If this has happened to you, you can probably take your claim to the DLSE (Labor Board).

Illegal Reasons to Terminate Employees

If you are an "at-will" employee, you will only have a legal claim if the real reason that your employer terminated you is because of your age, ancestry, national origin, race, religion, color, disability, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, certain medical conditions, or because you reported some illegal or unsafe working conditions.

If the real reason you were terminated is not on the above list, then you will likely not have a claim against the employer. I discuss this in more detail in a podcast on wrongful termination.

Legal Reasons to Terminate Employees

The following are some reasons that may seem unfair, and are certainly unfortunate, but they are not illegal: Fired without a warning (unless you have an employment contract), fired because the boss' wife didn't like you, fired because they suspected you stole from the company when in fact you can prove that you did not, fired because the boss wanted to replace you with a friend, fired because you came in late when you could not help it because of an accident on the freeway, fired because the boss wanted to take all of "your" sales accounts (they are not "your" sales accounts, they belong to the company), fired because they did not believe your side of the story relating to an incident, fired because you could not meet unrealistic goals, fired because they really wanted to eliminate your position, fired but they never hired a replacement, and fired because they said they were downsizing when in fact they were hiring.

It is important to note that the above list is only accurate if the stated reason for your firing is not a pretext for an illegal firing based on your age, race, gender, etc. That is, if they fire you because they say they suspected you of stealing, but the real reason is that the new manager wants to fire all the employees of a certain race, then that would be illegal. The problems with proving this are likely why you need an attorney to assist you with the claim.

Other Claims Against the Employer

Frequently, the employee who is terminated does not have a claim for wrongful termination, but they may have a valid claim for other labor violations. Many people who contact my office for wrongful termination end up suing for unpaid overtime. If after reading this website, you feel that you do not have a good wrongful termination or hostile work environment claim, please see my other informative websites to see if the employer is committing any other labor violations. These include: unpaid overtime, missed meal breaks, and various other employment law violations. My office has been very successful at recovering money from employers who violate the law by using any number of different legal theories.


This website only provides general information about legal services and overtime laws in California and is not meant to be legal advice and does not serve to establish an attorney-client relationship. Any statements, on this page or elsewhere, are not guarantees of any outcome. Michael Tracy is a licensed attorney only in California.