Employment Law Statute of Limitations in California
| Read Time: 4 minutes | Employment Law 101

Many employees who experience mistreatment at work don’t realize there are deadlines for legal action. The statute of limitations for employment claims in California ranges from one to four years, depending on the situation. Waiting too long to file a claim can mean missing out on compensation or holding bad actors accountable. 

This blog post will take a look at some common California employment law issues and explain how long employees have to address them.

If you’re worried about running out of time to get help with employer wrongdoing, contact King & Siegel LLP. Our attorneys can further clarify the employment law statute of limitations in California and help ensure you file a claim on time.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is the time you have to take legal action after your rights are violated. These deadlines apply to claims filed as:

  • Lawsuits in civil court, or
  • Administrative complaints made to a state authority. 

When the statute of limitations is past, you lose your right to legal help with an employment issue.  

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wage and Hour Violations?

For violations of the California Labor Code, the statute of limitation depends on the type of wrongdoing. 

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office has a three-year statute of limitations for reporting:

  • Minimum wage violations,
  • Withheld overtime pay,
  • Illegal paycheck deductions,
  • Denial of meal or rest breaks, and
  • Unpaid bonuses or commissions.

If your boss broke an oral promise to pay you an amount above minimum wage, you have only two years to file a claim. However, if you have a written pay agreement, then you get up to four years after the event to take action. 

You can also sue your employer in California state court over unpaid wages or withheld benefits. State law gives workers a three-year window after the incident of theft or denial to file a civil lawsuit. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Harassment and Discrimination?

Discrimination and harassment based on identity is a violation of California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA). Employees who see or experience it should file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD).  

Employees have up to three years to file a claim about:

  • Discrimination based on an identity trait protected by California law—for instance, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or pregnancy status;
  • Harassment based on a protected traitthis includes sexual harassment and mistreatment based on immigration status; or
  • Retaliation for reporting harassment or discriminationthis applies whether you report misconduct internally (HR) or to an outside legal authority (CRD).

If you want to sue for harassment or discrimination, you still have to file an administrative complaint with the CRD first. After they process the claim, you can request a right-to-sue letter. Then, you have a year to file a discrimination or harassment lawsuit in civil court.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination?

For cases of illegal firing, your deadline for action depends on the reason you lost your job. 

FEHA Violations and Retaliation

You have three years to file a claim with the California Civil Rights Division if your firing violates an anti-discrimination law. This includes losing your job because you:

  • Hold certain religious beliefs,
  • Request a leave of absence under the California Family Rights Act,
  • Complain about denied pregnancy accommodations, or
  • File a report about workplace sexual harassment.

Once you get a right-to-sue notice from the CRD, you have one more year to file your lawsuit. 

Workers’ Compensation Retaliation

If you’re fired for filing for workers’ compensation after an injury, you have one year to file a claim. California law requires all employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The law also makes it illegal for an employer to fire or punish you for claiming workers’ compensation for a legitimate on-the-job injury. Report this kind of retaliation by filing a petition with the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board no later than a year after your firing. 

Violation of Public Policy

A violation of public policy happens when you’re fired for exercising a legal right or duty. This includes refusing to participate in illegal activity or reporting any unlawful behavior you observe. If you lose your job under these circumstances, you have two years to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Breach of Employment Contract

There’s a four-year statute of limitations to sue if your boss breaks your written employment contract when you’re fired.

If your employer goes back on an unwritten work agreement, you have less time to act. The statute of limitations for violating an implied employment contract is two years. This includes oral and other non-written employment agreements.

Is There an Exception to the Statute of Limitations for California Employment Claims?

There are some situations when the deadline for legal action is extended or paused. For example, if your employer repeatedly performs an illegal action or violates labor law in a new way, the statute of limitations is calculated from the most recent occurrence of the issue. A statute of limitations can also be suspended if an employee and an employer agree to it in a written contract called a “tolling agreement.” 

However, it’s best to consider the employment law statute of limitations in California as a hard deadline. If you don’t take action before the required time, you lose the ability to invoke your legal rights. That’s why it’s important not to wait too long to get help.

If you think you’ve been the target of an illegal act, get in touch with an attorney as soon as possible. Even if you’re unsure whether your rights were violated, a lawyer is trained to identify illegal actions and can help you understand your options.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Employment Lawyer 

King & Siegel LLP has spent years fighting to protect the rights and livelihoods of Los Angeles workers. Our award-winning attorneys are known for our strategic and proactive approach to all types of employment disputes, from sexual harassment to disability discrimination.

We understand how stressful navigating the legal system can be. That’s why we’re dedicated to providing our clients with attentive, efficient representation that gets results. If you think you’ve been mistreated at work, you shouldn’t have to wait and wonder about your options. We’ve recovered millions on behalf of California employees. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help you.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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