What Is At-will Employment In California?

California law provides little job security to at-will employees. At-will employment means that employers can terminate (i.e. fire) employees at any time, for almost any reason – regardless if the reason is true or valid — or for no reason at all. Employers can lawfully fire employees for almost anything: employers don’t like them, find them annoying, don’t like how they dress, or want to give their jobs to someone else. So employers are well within their legal rights to tell employees:

  • “I hate working with you. You’re fired!” 
  • “My nephew needs a job, so you’re fired.”

For example, your employer fires you for being habitually late to work. Even if you can prove with time records that you were never late, it doesn’t matter. Your employer can fire you, even if his or her reason for doing so is wrong. In fact, you can be fired on-the-spot for no reason:

  • “Pack your stuff and get out. You’re fired.”

Even if you are fantastic at your job, received numerous job performance bonuses, and received countless glowing reviews, your employer doesn’t need a reason to fire you.

Many employees find the at-will rule distasteful because it seemingly gives employers unfettered freedom to fire employees. But that is not completely true. California law places a few limitations on the at-will rule. For instance,

  • You cannot be fired for discriminatory reasons
  • You cannot be fired for participating in union activity
  • You cannot be fired for refusing to carry out an activity that violates the law
  • You cannot be fired for complaining about an illegal activity, discrimination, harassment, or health and safety violations at work
  • You cannot be fired for exercising certain legal rights, such as taking family and medical leave, taking leave to serve in the military, or taking time off work to vote or serve on a jury

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

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