Legal and Illegal Terminations in California

There are many types of legal termination in California since it is an at-will state. CA employers do not necessarily need specific legal reasons to fire an employee, as they can terminate a worker’s employment at any time for almost any reason, including not providing a reason at all. However, there are still illegal reasons to fire an employee that are considered discriminatory or reactive. The reason for termination can influence whether an applicant is eligible for unemployment benefits. All employers in California are free to adopt at-will employment policies, but are not required. Continue reading this page if you wish to find out more about the illegal and legal reasons for terminating employees in California.

Legal Reasons for Terminating Employees in California

In California, your employer is not legally required to give you reasons for dismissal of employment unless you have a written, or in some cases, a verbal contract, which is an exception to the at-will rule. Many types of legal termination of employment include firings based on work performance and adhering to company rules. Some legal reasons for dismissal of employment in California include:

  • Not performing your job adequately or safely
  • Not show up on time for work
  • Failing a drug test
  • Ignoring your company’s code of conduct
  • Unethical behavior (such as bullying another employee)

When dismissed workers are applying for unemployment insurance, many of these reasons can prevent them from being eligible for benefits. Being fired for misconduct will result in unemployment benefits being denied. However, not all terminations are grounds for rejection from the welfare program.

Download our free guide for details about qualifying for California unemployment benefits after being fired.

Illegal Reasons for Terminating Employees in California

There are a number of illegal reasons for dismissal of employment in California, which will not negatively influence you qualifying for unemployment benefits. If you feel you have been the victim of one of these types of illegal termination of employment, then you may wish to file a wrongful termination discrimination charge. Here are some types of illegal termination in California:


Discrimination is one of the most common types of illegal termination of employment. Types of discrimination include age, race, color, religion, sex, ethnic/national origin, disability, and veteran status. These are never legal reasons to fire an employee, as federal laws protect employees from being fired due to discrimination.


Harassment is another type of illegal termination of employment, which includes gender, sexual and racial harassment. You may have been wrongfully terminated on the basis of harassment if your employer made insulting comments about your physical appearances or he or she made unwelcome sexual advances.


Retaliation is not a legal reason to fire an employee and you are protected from dismissal of this type by law. Your employer cannot legally terminate your employment for your participation in protected practices such as reporting illegal behavior taking place within the company to external law enforcement agencies. Similarly, an employer cannot dismiss you for using company benefits such as group health insurance or apply for family leave.

Breach of Contract

Breach of contract is does not pertain to at-will employment laws. This type of illegal termination of employment occurs when you have a written, or in some cases, a verbal contract with your employer and your termination breaks that contract.

Violations of Public Policy

It is not a legal reason for terminating employees in California if it violates public policy. This type of illegal termination of employment is defined as one which members of society recognize as illegal grounds for firing an employee. Violations of public policy include firing an employee for:

  • taking time off work to perform jury duty.
  • taking time off work to vote.
  • disclosing illegal company practices.
  • serving in the National Guard or military.
  • whistle-blowing (alerting the authorities to the company’s practices that are harmful to the public).


Fraud is never a legal reason for dismissal of employment, yet some employers may be unscrupulous enough to attempt this practice. To show that your illegaldismissal of employment came about by fraud, you must be able to prove that your employer intended to deceive you by making a false representation and that someone else in charge of the company knew this deception. You must also have been harmed in some way by this misrepresentation.


Whistle-blowing violations are not among the legal reasons for terminating employees in California and if you have been fired for this reason, you may wish to file a wrongful termination charge. Whistle-blowing laws are in place to protect workers who report illegal or harmful activities for the benefit of public interest.


It is not a legal reason for terminating employees in California to make false and derogatory statements about employees. If you are filing a suit for illegaldismissal of employment due to defamation, you must show that your employer said or wrote damaging statements about you that caused you harm in some way.

Find out more about legal employment practices and termination laws that influence California unemployment insurance and welfare assistance by reviewing the information in our comprehensive guide.

What Kind of Employment Development Services Are Available in California?

If you are currently unemployed and need help finding a job, the state of California offers unemployment benefits to eligible applicants, in order to help them get by while pursuing work. In addition to financial assistance, the Employment Development Division of California also offers training benefits, which allow unemployed individuals to learn new skills and get a higher education so that they can earn a better living. Find out more about these employment services by downloading our guide.

What Education Assistance Is Available in California?

Just as unemployed individuals can benefit from services offered by the state, so too can college students. California students can qualify for financial aid from the government, such as loans and grants, which can help them cover the costs of higher education. Find out how you can get financial assistance for your schooling by downloading our guide.