At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination in California

Were you recently fired from your job? You may be concerned that the termination was illegal, also known as wrongful termination. In order to prove wrongful termination took place, you must be able to prove that that the motive for the termination is illegal.

California’s Labor Code states that when an employment relationship does not specify a certain duration, it is deemed an “at-will” employment relationship.

Across the U.S., almost all employment is considered to be “at-will,” which means that employers maintain the right to fire an employee at any time; they can even fire someone for no reason at all providing the employer’s reason was not illegal. However, there are exceptions to the “at-will” rule.

What Are the Exceptions to the At-Will Rule?

The exceptions to the at-will rule were established by the courts, state and federal laws, and public policy. For instance, under state law, employers are prohibited from terminating an employee based on ancestry, age, race, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, sex, or religion.

Additionally, statutory exceptions prohibit employers from terminating employees for participating in union activity or refusing to carry out any activities that would be in violation of the law.

How Employers Can Reduce the Risk of Lawsuits

Employers can reduce their risk of wrongful termination lawsuits by using “at-will” language in all of their verbal and written communications with their employees. Such language can be used in interviews, job announcements, employee training and handbooks, and employee reviews.

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development urge employers to avoid using any language that indicates job performance or security.

Did You Have a Written Promise?

Do you have a written contract that promised you job security? If you have such a contract or a similar statement, you may have a strong argument that you were not an “at-will” employee.

Perhaps you have an employment contract that states that you could only be terminated for specific reasons outlined in the contract. Or, you may have another document that promises an extended period of employment. If so, the promises may be enforceable.

We’ve only scratched the surface of wrongful termination. If you believe you were terminated due to discrimination, retaliation, whistleblowing, or for your sexual orientation, disability, race or another unlawful reason, you are urged to contact Alan Burton Newman, a Los Angeles employment law attorney.

Call (310) 986-2792 to schedule a free consultation with a Harvard lawyer!