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I handed in my resignation after 5 years and was fired on the spot

Santa Cruz, CA |

I worked for a company for 5 years. The boss is also a (non-immediate) relative. I gave her 2 weeks notice during a verbal meeting, and she fired me on the spot. Told me to clean out my desk and leave immediately. I was very reasonable and offered to work after my resignation to complete tasks I had been assigned earlier in 2012. She stood there and watched me pack as much stuff as I could, and said she would box up and shift anything I leave to me. I was not allowed to clean out my computer of personal files.

Is this legal? To work for a company so long, give a very considerate notice of plans to move on, and be told to pack my desk on the spot?

What does employment law state about this?

Everything was verbal. I was told I would be paid up to the end of that day.

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Attorney answers 3


Depressing as it is, your employer had every legal right to fire you on the spot. An employer does not need any reason whatsoever to fire an employee. Unfortunately, employees and job applicants have very few employment rights, and employers have a lot of leeway in how they choose to run their businesses. In general, an employer can be unfair, obnoxious or bad at management. And an employer can make decisions based on faulty or inaccurate information. An employer has no obligation to warn an employee that he or she is not performing as the employer wants. It’s not a level playing field. An employer hires employees to provide work for its benefit, not for the benefit of the employees. Don't expect the employer to take care of its employees; it doesn’t have to and it rarely does.

There are some limitations on what an employer can do, mostly in the areas of public policy (such as discrimination law or whistle blowing), contract law, union-employer labor relations, and constitutional due process for government employees. Please see my guide to at-will employment in California which should help you understand employment rights: After you take a look at the guide, you may be able to identify actions or behavior that fits one of the categories that allows for legal action. If so, an experienced plaintiffs employment attorney may be helpful.

Unless your employer paid you your final pay at the time it terminated you, you are probably entitled to waiting time penalties, which can add up to a significant amount of money. California law requires employers to pay an employee's final wages at the time the employer ends the employment, or within 72 hours if the employee resigns without giving 72 hours notice. "Final wages" consist of regular pay, overtime pay, accrued and unused vacation pay, PTO, commissions that can be calculated, some bonuses and perhaps other components. It does not include unused sick leave.

If the employer does not pay as required, there is a penalty against the employer and in favor of the employee: the employee’s pay continues as if the employee were still working, every day until the employer pays in full, up to a maximum of 30 days. The employee is entitled to interest at 10 per cent per annum on the unpaid amount. Also, if the employee must go to court to get his or her pay, then the employee is awarded reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of suit.

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) is a sub-agency within the California Department of Industrial Relations. Some people refer to the DLSE as the Labor Commissioner. The DLSE enforces California's wage and hour laws, including those pertaining to overtime, rest and meal breaks, and more. The link for information on filing a wage claim is here:

I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best. *** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***


Attorney Spencer's detailed response is accurate. As inconsiderate and shocking as it may have been to you, the employer could legally fire you on the spot. An employee who is discharged must be paid all of his or her wages, including accrued vacation, immediately at the time of termination. (Labor Code Sections 201 and 227.3.)

Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.


Ms. Spencer and Mr. Chen are correct. There is nothing whatsoever you can do about this rude and uncaring conduct. It is a very common employer practice to do exactly what happened to you. Many employers do not want an employee who has already given notice of their imminent departure to stay within the workplace for many reasons. It is a perfectly legitimate act by an employer.

It is a very nice, polite and considerate thing to give advance notice. A failure to do so can result in employer disappointment and even a refusal to give positive references upon your departure. However, you have do duty to give notice, and the employer has no duty to keep you around after you indicate your intent to resign.

Good luck to you.

This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.