The legend of Damocles goes back well over 2,000 years to a time when King Dionysius ruled part of Italy. You may be familiar with this story where Damocles became jealous of the king's wealth and power. So, Dionysius offered to exchange places with his subject. Damocles readily accepted, and sat on the throne surrounded by opulence and majesty. Unbeknownst to him, however, Dionysius arranged for a sword to hang over the throne suspended only by a horse's hair. According to the tale, Damocles quickly learned his lesson - with great power comes great danger - and he returned to his previous position with newfound gratitude.
Throughout much of history, "the sword of Damocles" meant that with great power comes great responsibility. There is a "sword of Damocles" when it comes to employment law as well, and it is the threat of litigation. To prevent employees or employers from operating in perpetual fear of a lawsuit over a certain matter, courts established statutes of limitation that cut off the right to sue after a certain amount of time passes.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations in Employment Law
What is the Statute of Limitations?
As a general rule, the statute of limitations is two years for torts, such as car crashes, and four years for contracts, such as collections matters. For the most part, tort cases are relatively straightforward and contracts cases can be incredibly complex, particularly if they involve multinational corporations.
Statute of Limitations in Employment Law
The two years and four years are only a rule of thumb, and lawmakers can, and do, set different time deadlines in different matters. Moreover, many cases have aspects of both tort and contract cases, so they do not fit neatly into either category. Employment discrimination cases are a good example of this phenomenon, so in many cases, the California Legislature has enacted special statutes of limitations. The following are some examples of these special statutes of limitations for claims related to the employment context.
- Wrongful Termination: Even though California is an at-will state, employers cannot fire their employees for an illegal reason, such as their ethnicity, age, or gender. Aggrieved ex-employees must file their claims within two years of termination.
- FEHA Discrimination Claims: There is a two-step process here because claimants have one year to file administrative complaints under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and then an additional year to file a lawsuit after they receive a right-to-sue letter.
- CFRA Retaliation Claims: Similar to FEHA, a person loses the right to file a lawsuit one year after the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) agency sends a right-to-sue letter.
- Libel or Slander: The complainant must file a lawsuit within one year after the allegedly defamatory statement was published either orally or in writing.
- Wage and Overtime Matters: Most unpaid wage claims are subject to a three-year statute of limitations. Under the Unfair Competition Law (UCL), the time period is extended to four years for unpaid wage claims under the Unfair Competition Law, while wage statement claims must be brought within one year.
Finally, the limitations period is two years for claims involving intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Family Medical Leave Act (intentional FMLA claims get an extra year), or breach of an oral contract.
If your employer is violating California employment law, our experienced Los Angeles employment attorneys know the statute of limitations for each type of claim and can help you file a complaint in a timely manner. Contact us today for your free consultation.