Is My Job At-will?

Most California jobs are at-will.  As discussed in a prior post, at-will means employees can be fired at any time, for almost any reason – regardless if the reason is true or valid — or for no reason at all. If you are unsure whether your job is at-will, start by reviewing your employment contract, employee handbook, and any other paperwork distributed or signed during the hiring process. Usually those documents will indicate whether your employment is at-will.

MY CONTRACT DOESN’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT AT-WILL EMPLOYMENT. DOES THAT MEAN I CAN ONLY BE FIRED FOR CA– USE?

Even if you can’t find any “at-will” language in your paperwork, your employment may still be at-will because California law presumes that employees are at-will unless shown otherwise.

Generally employees are not at-will if employers indicate – verbally or in writing – that:

  • Employees cannot be fired without good cause
  • Employees can only be fired for specific reasons
  • Employees are being hired to work for a specific length of time

So, for example, if your contract states that you can only be fired for committing a crime or receiving subpar reviews, your job is not at-will.

MY CONTRACT SAYS MY JOB IS AT-WILL, BUT MY BOSS SAID THAT I WOULD ALWAYS HAVE A JOB IF I CONTINUED TO WORK HARD. DOES THAT MEAN MY JOB ISN’T AT-WILL?

California law generally views employment relationships as at-will even when employers make conflicting statements to the contrary.

Lighthearted promises or guarantees of long-term employment can be construed by California courts to mean the employment relationship is not at-will.

  • “You’ll always have a place here, as long as you keep up the great work”
  • “We look forward to working with you over the next several years”  
  •  “We are so happy to have you on board to complete this project”

But if employers also indicate – particularly in writing – that the relationship is at-will, California courts will likely find an at-will relationship, despite the conflicting promises and guarantees of long-term employment.

Because this post only briefly discuses at-will employment under California law, you need to consult a lawyer if you feel your rights have been violated. Should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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