What Is the Difference Between Being Laid Off and Terminated in California?

laid off vs. terminated

Have you recently lost your job?

Are you unsure whether your employer laid you off or terminated your employment?

Does something feel “off” about how your former employer handled the situation?

At Starpoint Law, our dedicated team of Los Angeles employment lawyers can help you determine if you were laid off vs terminated and whether your employer violated your rights in doing so.

If they did, we can help you pursue legal action against your former employer.

When considering the difference between being laid off and terminated, it's crucial to understand the underlying reasons and implications.

  • Laid Off: When you're laid off, it typically means the company is reducing its workforce, often due to economic reasons or restructuring. This action is not typically a reflection of your performance, but rather a strategic decision by the company.
  • Terminated (Fired): Being terminated, on the other hand, usually implies that there were performance issues or violations of company policies that led to the decision. It's a more direct action by the employer due to specific reasons related to your conduct or job performance.

In essence, being laid off suggests a broader organizational decision, while termination implies a more individual-focused action.

The Practical Effect of Being Laid Off vs Terminated

Losing a job always carries a certain level of stress and disappointment, regardless of whether your employer fired you or let you go.

For the most part, laid off and terminated employees are in about the same situation, even when it comes to obtaining unemployment benefits.

It is only in cases involving an employee’s egregious misconduct that they are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The Legal Effect of Being Laid Off vs Terminated in California

For most employees, and in most situations, it is clear whether an employer laid you off or terminated your employment.

However, that isn’t always the case. And sometimes, an employer’s stated reason for ending your employment isn’t necessarily reflective of their true motivations.

Under California employment law, there usually isn’t a difference between having your employment terminated vs. being laid off; however, an employer must comply with state and federal law in either situation.

California is an at-will employment state. This means that employers are free to fire or lay off workers for almost any reason or no reason at all.

However, employers cannot fire or lay off an employee if doing so violates an employment contract or goes against state or federal law.

Employment Contracts

An employment contract is a legal document outlining the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees.

However, most employers do not use employment contracts except for executive and higher-level positions.

If a term in an employment contract states an employer can terminate an employee only for cause, this overrides California's general at-will employment laws.

Laid Off or Terminated? Let Us Fight For Your Rights and Navigate Your Next Steps Together. Call 310-424-9971 Or Fill Out The Form For a Free Consultation Today

Violations of State or Federal Law

While employers can fire or lay off employees for almost any reason, they cannot rely on an illegal reason.

For example, an employer cannot terminate your employment or lay you off if their reason for doing so was based on discrimination or retaliation.


Under California law, it is illegal for an employer to base an employment decision on any of the following:

  • Age (if the employee is over 40),
  • Disability,
  • Gender identity or gender expression,
  • Genetic information,
  • Marital status,
  • Medical condition,
  • Military and veteran status,
  • National origin,
  • Race or color of an employee’s skin,
  • Religion or creed,
  • Sex or gender (including pregnancy), or
  • Sexual orientation.

If you believe you were fired for any of these reasons, you should speak to an employment lawyer right away.


Employers are not allowed to fire or lay off an employee in retaliation for the employee engaging in protected activity, such as:

  • Reporting illegal activity, including discrimination or harassment;
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim;
  • Making reports of workplace safety violations;
  • Filing an employment lawsuit;
  • Using benefits;
  • Reporting labor code violations; or
  • Serving as a witness in another’s employment case.

If an employer relied on any of these reasons to fire you or lay you off, their decision likely violates state and federal law.

Don't Face Layoff or Termination Alone - Trust Our Los Angeles Employment Law Firm for Support

If your employer terminated your employment and you question their motives for doing so, contact Starpoint Law for immediate assistance.

We can help you understand what is the difference between being terminated and laid off and assist you in pursuing your rights under state and federal law.

At Starpoint Law, we take every one of our clients’ cases personally. We strive to provide our clients with the highest and most professional experience while dealing with complex legal situations.

To learn more and to schedule a free consultation, call 310-424-9971 today. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

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Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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