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How long do you have to file a wrongful termination lawsuit?

If you think you’ve been unlawfully fired or let go from a job, California allows you to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. “Wrongful termination” occurs when an employer fires, layoffs or otherwise discharges an employee for a reason that is illegal under the California Code of Civil Procedure, which also sets the time period, known as the statute of limitations, within which you can file a claim.

The statute of limitation varies depending on the circumstances and type of termination, but generally falls within one to three years.

Why is there a time limit on filing a claim or a lawsuit for wrongful termination of employment? Statute of limitations are imposed so plaintiffs don’t delay making a claim for so long a time period that evidence is lost, relevant documentation is no longer accessible, or witnesses can’t remember details with accuracy.

And, for some wrongful termination lawsuits, the former employee first has to file an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing before a lawsuit can be brought to the state courts.

Common reasons for bringing a wrongful termination lawsuit are:

  • Breach of contract, including an implied contract of length of employment.
  • Public policy violations, including unsafe working conditions or for taking family, medical or pregnancy leave.
  • Whistleblower retaliation.
  • Discrimination, including termination for opposing or filing a complaint over harassment, race, gender, sexuality or age discrimination, a request for disability or religious accommodation.
  • Violations under the California Worker Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) Act, which requires employers give notice for mass layoffs or company closure. The length of notice depends on the number of employees and length of employment.

And while employment in California is “at-will,” meaning the employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason, California allows workers to claim wrongful termination for the reasons listed above within the following time frames:

  • Violation of Public Policy. If you’ve been fired for reporting unsafe working conditions or taking family, medical or pregnancy leave, you have two years to file a complaint.
  • Discrimination and Harassment. If you’re claiming termination for reporting discrimination or harassment, you have one year to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If DFEH can’t resolve your complaint, it will issue a Right to Sue notice, and you then have one year to file a lawsuit.
    • Exception: If you file this claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the deadline is 180 days from when you were fired and, if a Right to Sue notice is issued, 90 days to file a lawsuit.
  • Breach of Contract: If your termination violated a written employment contract, you have four years to file a lawsuit. For an implied or verbal employment contract, the statute of limitations is two years.
    • Exception: If you’re a union employee claiming a breach of your Collective Bargaining Agreement. Then, you have six months to file claim against your employer, or against your union for failing to fairly represent you.
  • Unpaid Wages: If an employer failed to pay you wages or overtime pay you are legally owed, you have three years to file a claim with the Labor Commissioner or in court. However, if you file a lawsuit under the Business and Professions Code Section 1700, you gain an additional year to file.
  • Fraud: If you’re alleging employment fraud, you have three years to file to a lawsuit.
  • Defamation: If you’re claiming defamation by your employer, you have one year to file a lawsuit.
  • Retaliation for a Workers’ Compensation Claim :Labor Code 132a states that an employee can’t be fired, threatened with being fired or discriminated against for filing or planning to file a workers’ compensation claim. In addition, the Code gives the same legal protection to employees who testifies or makes known an intention to testify in another employee’s case. The statute of limitations in these circumstances is one year.

Keep in mind that because California is an at-will employment state, proving wrongful termination can be difficult. But the skilled employment attorneys at LawPLA can help. For a free telephone consultation, call one of our Los Angeles offices or schedule an appointment online. We are here to fight for your rights!


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.