The term “at-will” employment is often misunderstood. Despite that employment in California is at-will, there are numerous legal protections that limit an employer’s right to discharge at-will employees. It’s important you understand your rights as an at-will employee so you are not taken advantage of by your employer.
At-will employment status does not alter California’s existing antidiscrimination laws, which prohibit unlawful terminations. Therefore, even if you are an at-will employee, your employer may not terminate you if it was motivated by a protected characteristic, such as your disability, age, race, gender, pregnancy, military or marital status. If you are an at-will employee in California who has been the victim of an unlawful termination, you have legal rights. Read below to determine if you need to seek legal representation, and contact Pimentel Law for a free consultation for your specific case.
The Definition of At-Will Employment in California
The core elements of at-will employment are as follows:
- An employer can terminate your employment at any time, for any reason, with or without notice
- An employee can quit at any time, for any reason, with or without notice
In addition to terminating employment, the employer can also alter the terms of employment at any time — again, without notice, and without consequences. This includes changing your benefits, vacation time, compensation, and more. In every state except for Montana, at-will employment is the default, and most Americans are at-will employees.
Exceptions to At-Will Employment Rights
At-will employment does not mean your employer is above the law when they terminate your employment. There are many common exceptions to at-will employment.
- Exception: Public Policy
If your termination violates a public policy, i.e. firing you for attending jury duty, then this creates an exception to at-will employment in California.
In California, there are four general categories of public policy violations that are exceptions to at-will employment:
- Refusing to violate a statute
- Performing a statutory obligation
- Exercising a statutory right or privilege
- Reporting an alleged violation of a statute of public importance
- Exception: Implied Contract
An implied contract is an agreement between you and the employer, usually via an oral agreement or an employee handbook, that creates certain expectations between you and your employer.
As you may have guessed, these implied contracts are often difficult for the plaintiff to prove. Many employers protect themselves by explicitly stating in employment materials, such as handbooks, that employment is at-will.
- Exception: Covenant of Good Faith
Good faith is a general legal term in contract law that refers to the presumption that both parties to an agreement will deal with each other fairly and honestly.
Like implied contracts, proving that one or both parties did not deal with good faith can often be subjective and difficult to prove in a court of law. Still, if you believe your employer did not act in good faith, you should seek a legal consultation.
One example of bad faith dealing is firing an employee shortly before they were to receive retirement pay to avoid having to pay their pension. In such a case, the employer would have been in violation of the law by ending their employment, even though the employment was at-will.
The above exceptions are not all-inclusive. If you suspect your employer has fired you in bad faith, you should consider seeking legal advice.
How To Tell When Your At-Will Employment Rights Have Been Violated
In addition to the above exceptions, there are further statutory exceptions to at-will employment in California.
Being an at-will employee does not mean your employer can discriminate against you. Under California law, an employee cannot be terminated because of disability, age, race, gender, pregnancy, military or marital status.
Your at-will employment status in California does not give your employer license to unlawfully discriminate against you. If you were let go for a discriminatory reason, you should contact a legal professional for help.
Whistleblowing is when an employee reports conduct by the employer that he or she believes is illegal. These illegal activities can include corruption, fraud, abuse of taxpayer funds, or other illegal activities such as child labor.
Being fired for whistleblowing may also be considered a violation of public policy, and vice-versa.
Both state and federal laws prevent an at-will employee in California from being fired for retaliatory reasons. For example, if you requested an accommodation for a disability and you were terminated as a result, that would constitute unlawful retaliation.
Contact Pimentel Law for Legal Advice Regarding At-Will Employment in California
Pimentel Law has been defending the rights of at-will employees in California for several years with tremendous success. With a strong commitment to ethics, professionalism, and personalized attention, Pimentel Law are experts that clients can rely on to deliver justice and peace of mind.
If you suspect your employer may have violated your at-will employment rights in California, we may be able to help you. Contact Pimentel Law today at (877) 265-8084 to learn your legal at-will employment rights and schedule a free consultation.