Fired vs. Laid Off: What Are Your Rights?

fired vs laid off

Losing your job can be devastating, both emotionally and financially. However, there can be many reasons a person may find themselves out of work. Being laid off and getting fired are the two main ways an employee can end up unemployed. It’s essential to know the difference — and the distinct consequences of each. Being fired vs laid off can impact your eligibility for unemployment benefits, as well as your future employment prospects.

What is the Difference Between Being Fired vs Laid Off?

California is an at-will employment state. This means a worker can be fired at any time, for any reason, as long as it isn’t in violation of any employment law. The two main reasons for illegal termination are based on discrimination and retaliation. When an employee is fired, it is because the employer no longer wants to employ you, for either legal or illegal reasons. In contrast, when an employee is laid off, it is typically because the company has gone out of business or is downsizing.

In addition, an employee may also be furloughed rather than laid off or fired. In these cases, they may be temporarily relieved from their employment but have the expectation of returning to their position. Furloughed employees may be able to continue their health insurance coverage and collect unemployment benefits for the duration of the furlough.

Are There Layoff Protections in California?

Employees have certain legal protections in California if a company conducts a layoff as a result of restructuring, closing, or downsizing. Although employees do not have the right to keep their positions, California state law and the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires that employers provide them with adequate notice of the layoff.

There are certain criteria that dictate whether an employee is entitled to notice of a layoff. Under California law, employers must provide a 60-day notice of a layoff if more than 50 employees will be let go within a 30-day period. Advance notice must also be provided if the workers are employed at an industrial or commercial facility with at least 75 employees — or if an industrial facility with 75 or more employees is relocating 100 or more miles away.

The layoff notice must provide specific information regarding the date the layoff will begin, and whether it is expected to be temporary or permanent. The law generally doesn’t apply to seasonal employees, or if the layoff occurred due to a natural disaster or act of war.

If an employer fails to adhere to California’s WARN law, they may be required to pay workers the wages and benefits they lost up to the time of the violation — minus any severance paid or wages earned during the period. If an employee pursues legal action as a result of a WARN violation, the employer may also be required to pay attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

What Are Your Rights If You Were Terminated?

Despite California’s at-will employment laws, some employees may have additional legal safeguards in the event their employer ends the employment relationship. Notably, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act protects workers from wrongful termination.


If you were fired for a discriminatory reason, you may have a legal claim and you may be entitled to recover your damages. Wrongful termination based on discrimination may apply if you are a member of a protected class and were discriminated against due to:

  • Age
  • Sex/gender/gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Ancestry/national origin
  • Marital status
  • Veteran status
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Medical condition
  • Request for family care, medical, or pregnancy leave


In contrast to wrongful termination based on discrimination, an employee subjected to wrongful termination based on retaliation. An employee may also be entitled to bring a lawsuit if they were wrongfully terminated because of their participation in political activities — or as a result of whistleblowing. An employer is prohibited from taking adverse employment action, including termination, against an employee who reports an employer’s legal or safety violation.

If your employer fired you in violation of the law, you might be able to recover your lost wages and benefits, attorney’s fees, court costs, and compensation for emotional distress. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded.

Contact an Experienced Employment Law Attorney

If you were fired or laid off from your job, it’s vital to know your rights. You may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits and healthcare coverage through COBRA. Depending on the circumstances, you may also be entitled to take legal action to recover your lost wages and benefits. Whether you were fired vs laid off will determine how you handle it. The attorneys at Optimum Employment Lawyers provide skilled counsel and experienced representation for clients who have been wrongfully terminated — and help ensure they receive the monetary recovery they deserve. Contact us at (949) 954-8181 for a free consultation.