An At-Will Employee Can Be Fired for Any Reason, Right?

No, You Are Protected by Many Factors

The term “at-will” employment usually follows with a definition that an at-will employee can be terminated at any time and for any reason. While many back this up, and it even follows the California employment code word for word, it simply is not true. There are many uncivil causes for termination.

An at-will employee cannot just fired on a whim, and the following are exceptions:

  • You cannot be fired on any basis protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – this includes race, gender, ethnicity, and others.
  • You cannot be fired for joining a union or being a part of any protected, organized membership or group.
  • If you have expressed conscionable terms for termination upon your employment, your employer is forced to uphold them.
  • You cannot be fired for any reason protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 – this includes disabilities that do not interfere with your job performance.
  • You cannot be fired for suing your employer for discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, or for testifying against them in court.
  • You cannot be fired for refusing to engage in criminal activity such as price fixing.

When employers in their contracts with you state that you can be terminated for any reason at any time, the phrasing is oversimplified and frankly incorrect. You can fired for a number of reasons; taking too much time off work, poor performance, inappropriate behavior, but not for any of the reasons stated above. This is called retaliation and wrongful termination, and it can be fought.

A Notable Case Example

The following case, Pugh vs. See’s Candies, Inc., is actually an example outside of the ones previously described, and is called an “Implied-In-Fact” exception.

The California Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Pugh who argued that he was wrongfully terminated by his employer See’s Candies, Inc., who had no other reason to terminate him, other than denying his employer’s proposals to modify their agreement with the union. Before this incident, his employer regularly affirmed his value to the company and constantly assured his job security. This sudden change of heart was able to be shown as a wrongful termination because of the “implication” that his job was secure.

If any of these cases sound unfortunately familiar, and you feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated, call our firm today at (310) 986-2792 to put a Harvard-educated employment lawyer on your side.