Did You Experience a Layoff in California? 4 Things You Should Do Right Now
Losing a job due to a layoff is a challenging and overwhelming experience. It’s shocking to go from having a steady paycheck to trying to make ends meet.
To make things worse, many employers try to take advantage of laid-off employees by withholding paychecks. It’s crucial to understand what to do next and how to protect yourself during this difficult time.
If you are wondering how to handle a layoff in California, it may help to know that you have several legal rights. Here are four essential steps you should take immediately following a layoff to put yourself in the best position.
1. Get Your Final Paycheck and Severance
California is an at-will state, meaning employers can terminate your employment for almost any reason. The trade-off is that employees can also quit their jobs without needing to provide notice to employers.
Once you receive your final paycheck, the relationship between you and the employer is officially over.
California law requires employers to give employees their final paychecks immediately after a layoff. For most jobs, this means you will receive your paycheck the same day you are let go. However, no company can hold your final paycheck for longer than 72 hours.
Some employers refuse to give workers these final paychecks or make excuses to delay payment. Don’t fall for these tactics.
If your employer does not pay you within 72 hours of the layoff, you may be entitled to extra pay. California has a waiting time penalty that requires the employer to pay you your daily pay rate each day they continue to withhold your payment, for a maximum of 30 days.
On top of getting paid on time, you want to make sure your paycheck is accurate. Your final paycheck should include:
- Regular wages,
- Unused vacation, and
- Expense reimbursements.
California does not require employers to provide severance to laid-off employees. However, many businesses offer severance agreements for employees as part of the employment contract. These may address things like retirement benefits, non-disclosure agreements, and insurance.
Employers want you to sign these agreements because they finalize the termination and often waive your legal rights to sue the employer.
Understand that you do not have to sign a severance agreement to receive your final paycheck. It is sometimes in your best interest to speak with a California employment attorney before signing a proposed severance agreement.
2. File for Unemployment
You may be eligible for unemployment benefits after a layoff in California. The government provides these funds to help you during this transitional period. To file for unemployment, you should follow these steps to ensure a smooth and successful process.
- Start by determining your eligibility because there are some base requirements.
- Gather essential information such as details about your last employer, the last date worked, and gross earnings in the last week of work.
- Provide information on all employers you worked for during the past 18 months. This includes wages earned and the reason for no longer working.
- File for unemployment benefits through the California Employment Development Department.
Keep in mind that you need to actively look for work while receiving unemployment and certify your job search every two weeks with the Department.
3. Understand Your Health Insurance Options
Losing your job often means losing your health insurance coverage. However, you have rights and options to continue health insurance coverage after a layoff.
Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), employers with 20 or more employees must offer a continuation of group health insurance coverage to eligible employees and their dependents. Coverage lasts between 18 to 36 months, depending on several factors.
California has its own Cal-COBRA program. It applies to employers with 2 to 19 employees and provides similar continuation coverage.
If you qualify for 18 months of coverage under federal COBRA, Cal-COBRA will give you 18 more months of coverage. Coverage starts as soon as you are laid off in California, but be sure to file for COBRA within 60 days of your termination.
You can calculate the cost of COBRA by adding your base premium and the administrative fee. The base premium is your individual contribution + the employer’s contribution each month.
Because your employer is no longer paying its contribution, you will notice that the cost of insurance is likely quite a bit higher than what you were paying before being laid off. You can contact your former employer’s HR department to get the exact cost.
4. Explore Wrongful Termination Claims
Not all layoffs are legal, and you want to make sure your previous employer complies with California labor laws. Otherwise, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination claim.
Some of the most common types of wrongful termination include:
- Basing termination on race, gender, age, disability, or other protected characteristics;
- Retaliating against an employee for reporting workplace violations or engaging in whistleblowing activities;
- Violating an implied contract with the employee;
- Laying off an employee for filing a workers' compensation claim or reporting a work injury;
- Failing to comply with the WARN Act in cases involving mass layoffs; and
- Firing an employee for taking leave or making wage and hour complaints.
Proving wrongful termination is not always easy. You will want to work with a California employment attorney to build the strongest case possible. If you succeed, a wrongful termination claim can provide you with compensation for lost wages, emotional distress, and attorney fees.
Get Advice from a California Employment Attorney
Life after a layoff is stressful. An employer who refuses to follow the law makes it even worse. You need to spend this time finding a new job. But far too many people find themselves arguing with their former employers to receive hard-earned pay.
The team at Starpoint Law is here to help you. We are dedicated to helping employees who did not receive their final paychecks or were wrongfully terminated.
We know all the tricks employers use to skirt the law and the excuses they use to lay off employees. Our team will not be discouraged by these tactics and will hold your employer accountable to get you the damages you deserve.
You are not alone after a layoff in California. We want to ensure you get back on your feet as soon as possible. If you never received your final paycheck or think you have a wrongful termination case, call us today to schedule a consultation.