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Recently Laid Off from Work | Do I Have Legal Options?

Employees face many difficult questions after learning they’ve been laid off from work. Can I afford to pay my rent next month? How will I feed my family? Do I still have healthcare coverage? In a best-case scenario, an employer is ready to answer questions and offer guidance about rights and options for employees affected by a layoff. However, many employees are often left to fend for themselves after their jobs are eliminated.

This blog post will answer some common questions employees have after company layoffs. We’ll cover some important rights and legal options available for employees who’ve had their rights violated.

I Just Learned I’m Being Laid Off. What Are My Rights?

First, let’s make an important distinction. Being laid off from work is different from being fired.

When your company lays you off, you lose your job for reasons beyond your control. Common reasons for layoffs include budget cuts, company restructuring, and downsizing. Laid-off employees are often eligible to receive certain benefits when they leave, like severance and payment for vacation or sick days.

When you’re fired, it’s a different story. If your company terminates you because of your actions—e.g., misconduct, poor performance, absenteeism—you generally don’t have access to benefits that are available after a layoff.

Be aware, however, that even laid-off employees might not get severance pay. No law requires employers to give severance to employees affected by layoffs. Whether you’re eligible for severance benefits depends on your employer and employment contract.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that the law grants to employees who’ve been laid off.

A Timely Final Paycheck

California law requires employers to pay employees any unpaid wages on their last day of work, whether they’re fired or laid off. If your employment agreement entitles you to unused paid vacation days, your company should also include that value in this check.

If you don’t receive your final paycheck after your last shift, your employer can be hit with waiting time penalties.

Continued Health Coverage

If you had health insurance through your employer, federal law allows you to access care at group rates through COBRA coverage. COBRA lets employees stay on an employer’s insurance plan for up to 18 months after termination. This federal law applies to all private employers with 20 or more employees. Employees must pay the full premium cost for any care received through COBRA, however, even though it’s still at the employer-negotiated group rate.

Advance Notice Under WARN

Federal law requires certain employers planning mass layoffs to notify employees beforehand. Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), employees should receive at least 60 days advance notice of a plant closing or layoffs when:

  • The employer has 100 or more employees, and
  • Fifty or more employees at a single site will be impacted.

WARN does give employers some exceptions to this notification requirement in situations when unpredictable business situations or natural disasters cause layoffs.

Can You Sue For Being Laid Off?

No matter how unfair it might feel to suddenly lose your job, you generally can’t sue an employer simply for laying you off.

This is because, in California, most employees are considered “at will.” At-will employment means that your employer can legally fire you—and you can quit—at any point and for almost any reason. The same rule applies to layoffs. As an at-will employee, you generally can’t take legal action against your boss for dismissing you, even if their reasons seem trivial or poorly judged.

However, there are some exceptional situations when ex-employees could have the right to file a lawsuit after a layoff. This happens when employers engage in wrongful termination while administering layoffs.

In legal terms, wrongful termination happens when employers dismiss employees for reasons that are illegal under state or federal law, such as discrimination or retaliation. Here are some situations when a layoff could cross the line into unlawful territory:

  • A company targets its oldest workers for termination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers 40 and older from mistreatment specifically because of age.
  • A business lays off all employees who requested pregnancy or disability accommodations in the past year. State and federal law requires employers to reasonably accommodate workers in particular family or medical situations. Targeting these employees for termination could be discrimination.
  • The employees affected by downsizing are all of a specific race, gender, or religion. Discrimination could also be in play when many employees from a particular protected group are laid off.
  • An employer lays off an employee with a strong performance record a month after they file a sexual harassment claim against a manager. The law protects employees who report misconduct or illegal activity in the workplace from retaliation. Employers may use layoffs to mask reprisals against a whistleblower.

If your layoff looked like one of these scenarios, you might be a victim of wrongful termination. With the help of an employment lawyer, you could take action against your employer for the layoff with a lawsuit in civil court.

Can I Get Layoff Compensation From a Lawsuit?

Employees with successful wrongful termination lawsuits can recover financial compensation from their employer for violating their rights.

Depending on the circumstances of your layoff, you could recover damages for:

  • Back wages,
  • Lost employment benefits,
  • Front pay,
  • Emotional distress, and
  • Attorney’s fees.

In some cases, reinstatement could also be available alongside financial recovery in successful lawsuits.

To recover compensation, you must show that your employer engaged in wrongful termination when they laid you off. Proving wrongful termination can be challenging. You need evidence to show that your inclusion in the layoff wasn’t just due to lagging performance or bad luck. Employees grappling with the fallout of job loss often struggle to know where to begin when building a solid wrongful termination claim. I

n these situations, it’s best to get the help of an employment lawyer. An attorney familiar with California’s employee protection laws can provide the legal support you need to get justice for wrongful termination.

Lawyers for Justice, PC Can Help You Protect Yourself

Being laid off from work affects more than your bank account. The team at Lawyers for Justice, PC understands the devastating impact layoffs can have on your career goals, family life, and emotional well-being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed after losing your job, speaking with a legal representative can help you find a way forward. Our attorneys can evaluate your case and help you understand your legal rights and options.

If you have grounds for a legal claim, our skilled litigators can fight on your behalf in court. Since the start of our practice in 2008, we’ve helped recover over one hundred million dollars on behalf of thousands of California workers. Contact our office to schedule a free consultation with an attorney.