final paycheck for California:
an employer guide to terminating employees in california 

If you are a California-based business that employs staff, then you probably know that you need to be aware of the laws and regulations that govern the termination of employees, including the payment of their final wages.

Keeping up to date on this knowledge ensures that you are not treating your ex-staff unfairly or exposing yourself and your business to potential lawsuits.

This guide will help you understand your obligations and responsibilities as an employer and provide you with some tips and best practices for handling employee terminations and severance packages. 

What Are the CA Laws on Termination and Notice Periods?

Along with most other states, California is an “at-will” employment state.  What this means is that either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, including:

  •  Contracts
  • Collective bargaining agreements
  • Public policy, descrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Whistleblowing
Therefore, before you make the decision to terminate an employee, you should make sure that you have a valid and lawful reason for doing so and that the reason does not violate any of these exceptions.

What is necessary to provide notice for termination?

Since California is an “at-will” state you do not have to provide notice to an employee before terminating them.  The only time this is a requirement is if there is a contract or agreement that states given notice as a requirement. 

What types of notice are required?

Although no notice needs to be given under normal circumstances of employment terminations, there are certain situations where you do have to provide notice to the state or to the affected employees: 

  • Mass layoffs, plant closings, or relocations that affect 50 or more employees within a 30-day period: At least 60 days’ notice to:
    • The affected employees
    • Their union representatives 
    • The state Employment Development Department (EDD), 
    • (Under the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and the California WARN Act)
  • Terminations due to lack of funds or lack of work in certain public sector jobs: At least 45 days notice to:
    • The affected employees 
    • Their union representatives
    • (Under the California Education Code)
  • Terminations due to a natural disaster or other unforeseeable circumstances that are not within your control: In this case, you may be exempt from providing notice under the WARN Acts, but you still must notify the EDD immediately.

What To Do if There Is a Dispute Over Termination Requirements?

If there is a dispute over the termination requirements or the validity of your reason for the termination, you may potentially face legal action from the employee, union representative, or from a government agency. 

We always recommend consulting with an attorney before terminating an employee, especially if the situation is complex or not clear-cut.

How To Outline Policies and Procedures for Termination of Employees

One very effective way to avoid potential disputes and lawsuits over employee terminations is to establish a clear policy over what is a terminable offense.  Additionally, you must also have clear procedures for terminating employees.

These policies should include:

  • The grounds for termination and how they are determined
  • What documentation and evidence you are required to provide to support the termination decision
  • The steps and timeline for notifying the employee of the termination
  • The procedure for conducting an exit interview and collecting company property
  • The information and forms that you will provide to the employee regarding their final paycheck, benefits, unemployment insurance, COBRA continuation coverage, etc.
  • The confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses that you will require from the employee
  • The dispute resolution mechanism that you will offer to the employee should they disagree with your decision

These policies should be freely available to all employees when they are onboarded and available in the company handbook. You should also provide training and awareness on them at regular intervals.

Managers and supervisors should also know exactly how to apply these policies and procedures fairly and consistently.

Do I Need to Document the Reasons in Writing?

Absolutely, yes. 

You must document every step of the termination process and keep accurate records of all employee communications. If there is a clear paper trail showing – and proving – your actions throughout, you will have a much easier time if a dispute is raised.

Do I Need to Document the Reasons in Writing?

You are not obliged to provide transition assistance, though it is often seen as a gesture of goodwill to do so, especially if the employee is being terminated through no fault of their own.

Transitional assistance varies, and you can choose to do one or more of the following:

  • Allow time during any given notice period for the employee to apply for jobs and attend interviews
  • Try to find an alternative role for the employee within the company
  • Provide assistance in helping the employee find a new role
  • Provide letters of recommendation to potential new employers
  • Provide a notice period even though none is required

What is Severance?

Severance is a payment or a package of benefits that you can offer an employee who is terminated.

A severance package can consist of:

  • Cash in the form of a lump sum or a series of installments
  • Extended benefits such as health and dental insurance
  • Outplacement or job training services


What Are the Severance Regulations in CA?

Severance is not required by law in California unless there is a contract or agreement that specifies it. However, many employers choose to offer severance as a gesture of goodwill or to “soften the blow” and avoid potential litigation.

The amount and terms of severance are usually determined by factors such as:

  • The length of service of the employee
  • The position and salary of the employee
  • The reason for termination
  • The financial situation of the employer
  • The expectational norms regarding severance in the industry
  • The negotiation skills of both parties


When Does an Employer Have to Provide Severance?

There is no obligation for an employer in California to provide severance packages to terminated employees. Doing so is entirely at your discretion and the circumstances surrounding the termination.

For example, if you have a highly respected, long-standing employee who is being terminated due to downsizing, offering a severance package would be the right thing to do.

On the other hand, if you have a lazy employee who is being terminated due to on-the-job negligence, then it’s highly unlikely you would want to offer them anything.


How To Determine the Amount of Severance Pay Due

There is no fixed formula for calculating severance pay in California, but a broadly accepted rule of thumb is to offer one week’s pay for every year of service. However, you are welcome to create a severance package that works for your business and the terminated employee.

If you’re unsure what to offer, a third-party financial service provider such as Finvisor can provide you with the expertise to help you.


Tips for Negotiating a Fair Severance Package

It’s not just the employee that gets to negotiate. While you want to make it fair for them, you must also ensure that the outcome works for your business too. Here’s what you can do to get the right outcome:

  • Be respectful and professional in your communication with the employee
  • Explain your rationale for what you are offering
  • Listen to and take on the employee’s needs and expectations
  • Be flexible and willing to compromise
  • Include a release of claims clause in exchange for severance
  • Seek legal advice before finalizing the agreement


Best Practices for Handling Severance Packages

Again, clear communication is vital when negotiating and handling severance packages. And don’t forget to leave that all-important paper trail!

Additionally, you must:

  • Have a written severance agreement that outlines the amount, terms, and conditions of severance
  • Provide a reasonable time period for the employee to review and sign the agreement
  • Comply with the tax and reporting requirements for severance payments
  • Coordinate with your payroll and benefits providers to ensure smooth deliverance

How To Communicate Employee Changes to Other Employees

No one wants to hear that their valued and well-liked work colleague has been let go. Furthermore, hearing this kind of news quickly demotivates staff and reduces morale.

Therefore, delivering the news must be handled carefully and sensitively. You have to balance the privacy and dignity of the terminated employee with the need to inform and reassure the remaining employees.

Here are some tips to follow:

  • Be timely: Don’t leave your staff hanging
  • Be transparent and honest but provide only the essential information
  • Avoid disclosing the details or reasons for termination
  • Use a neutral and respectful tone
  • Do NOT gossip out bad mouth the terminated employee
  • Acknowledge the contributions and achievements of the terminated employee
  • Address what will change for the remaining employees
  • Provide support and resources for the remaining employees
  • Request feedback and take questions from the remaining employees
  • Emphasize any positive aspects and opportunities of the change

Overview of California’s Laws on the Final Paycheck

One of the most important aspects of terminating an employee is paying their final check after termination properly and correctly. 

While California’s final paycheck laws surrounding termination are fairly loose, it does not mess around in this area. The state has strict laws on final paycheck, and you have to comply with them to avoid penalties and lawsuits.

Outline of What Is Included in a Final Paycheck for California

The terminated employee final paycheck should include the following:

  • All wages earned up to and including the date of termination
  • All accrued but unused vacation or paid time off (PTO)
  • Any commissions, bonuses, or incentives that are due
  • Any deductions that are authorized by law or by the employee


Important Details About Wage and Labor Laws in California

The last paycheck after termination should be:

  • Paid immediately at the time of termination if the employee is fired or laid off
  • Paid within 72 hours of termination if the employee quits without notice
  • Paid on the next regular payday if the employee quits with at least 72 hours notice

Failure to pay the final paycheck after termination on time and in full makes you liable for waiting time penalties, which are equal to one day’s wages for each day of delay, up to a maximum of 30 days. 

You may also face legal action from the employee or from the Labor Commissioner’s Office.

To avoid these consequences, you should:

  • Calculate the final wages of the final paycheck for terminated employee accurately and promptly
  • Issue a separate check for the final wages
  • Provide a detailed pay stub that shows all the components and deductions of the final wages
  • Keep records of the payment and delivery of the final wages


How Employers Must Calculate Wages Due Following Termination

If a terminated employee received a monthly salary, then the calculation is straightforward. Work out the day rate of their salary (annual amount / no of working days in the year) and multiply that by the number of days owed.

If the employee was on an hourly rate, this is even easier to work out. Just pay for the hours outstanding.

Crucially, do not forget to include any overtime pay, double-time pay, or anything else outside of their normal working salary or hourly pay in the terminated employee’s final pay.


When it comes to hiring and firing, Californian employers enjoy a lot of freedom and flexibility. However, it does not mean you can fire someone simply for the sake of it.

Make sure you’re up to date on all the rules and regulations surrounding Californian employment last check laws and be sure to treat your employees fairly when the time comes to let them go.

At Finvisor, we fully understand delicate situations and can help you tread carefully and properly. If you ever need an expert by your side to navigate employee terminations and final paycheck law successfully, just give us a call. Our seasoned HR and employment experts are on hand to assist you.

To learn more about what we do, or to request a quote, contact us at or 415-416-6682. We’re here to help you navigate deferred revenue journal entries so you can make the most of your assets!

*This blog does not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. This blog should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.*



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