Laid Off vs. Fired and Wrongful Termination

Laid Off vs. Fired: What Are the Differences?

If you’re like many people, you know that wrongful termination is too common in California – and you may also know that it’s possible to be wrongfully terminated whether you’re fired or laid off. But what are the differences between being fired and laid off, and how can your situation affect a wrongful termination claim?

Here’s what you need to know.

Laid Off vs. Fired: What Are the Differences?

There are a couple of differences between being laid off and being fired – but basically, a layoff means it was the employer’s fault and a firing means it was the employee’s fault. “Fault” is definitely subjective – these differences only apply when wrongful termination isn’t at play. This definition only applies to regular layoffs and termination when an employer isn’t violating the law.


Sometimes companies restructure and try to eliminate redundant jobs, or they have to stop using part of their workforce because they can’t afford to pay workers. The company can choose layoffs to meet this end.


Employees – again, when the employer isn’t violating the law with wrongful termination – can be fired because of poor job performance, failing to meet a supervisor’s (or the company’s) expectations, or for any other reason as long as that reason doesn’t rely on discrimination.

Related: Were you unfairly fired from your job?

Can Wrongful Termination Apply if You’re Laid Off?

If your employer lays you off, you could still have a wrongful termination claim. In fact, sometimes employers use layoffs to disguise actual wrongful termination.

Sometimes, even when an employer has legitimate reasons to lay people off, they include people they want to fire but can’t. For example, layoffs might include someone who complained about sexual harassment or a person the employer doesn’t want facing customers because of an accent. Even though the employer has a valid reason for laying people off, it can’t include a person because of any discriminatory reason.

If you can prove that your employer included you in the layoffs because it was unlawfully discriminating against you, you may have a wrongful termination claim. And as a side note, even if you only suspect that your employer included you in the layoffs for a discriminatory reason, you may want to talk to a Los Angeles workplace discrimination lawyer – your attorney can help you determine whether you have a valid case.

Another layoff situation can constitute wrongful termination, too; if a layoff has a disproportionate negative effect on a protected group, the employees who were laid off as a group may be able to prove that they were laid off for discriminatory reasons. For example, if all the African American employees were laid off but the company didn’t lay off any other groups of nationalities, it could signal discrimination disguised as layoffs.

Can Wrongful Termination Apply if You’re Fired?

Wrongful termination can absolutely apply if your employer fires you from your job. Under both California and federal law, employers are not allowed to fire employees for discriminatory reasons. If you’re fired for any of the following reasons, you may have a legal claim and should contact an attorney to explore your options:

  • Because of race, color, creed, nationality, religion, gender, or sexual orientation
  • As retaliation for whistleblowing
  • For working with prosecutors
  • For playing a part of a sexual harassment case
  • For refusal to commit an illegal act (such as covering up theft or shredding documents that could implicate your employer in a crime)
  • For taking time off to vote, serve on a jury, or under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or to participate in military service

California is an “at-will” employment state, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. Your employer cannot fire you for an unlawful reason or for a purpose that violates fundamental public policy, either. (“Public policy” means the system of laws, regulatory  measures and courses of action that current laws rely on – basically, public policy means unwritten rules.)

Related: What is at-will employment?

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Wrongful Termination and Being Laid Off vs. Fired?

If you think you were wrongfully terminated because you were laid off or fired, we may be able to help you. Call us at 818-230-8380 to schedule your free consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable and caring employment lawyer today.

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