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Is California an at-will employment state?

Jun 14, 2022 | Employment litigation

California is an at-will employment state, which means that an employer can decide to terminate employees’ roles at any time without having to provide a reason. Either party, the employee or the employer can terminate the position at will with notice.

With that in mind, remember that there can still be times when your business could be accused of wrongful termination. For example, if you terminate an employee because they got hurt on the job, you could be running afoul of the law and end up with a claim against you.

At-will employment laws don’t give you free range

There are some restrictions in place that make it so you can’t always fire people whenever you want. Some exceptions may include if the termination would:

  • Go against public policy
  • Go against the contract you have with the employee
  • Be retaliatory after they’ve made a protected claim
  • Violate an implied contract
  • Not come with a “just cause” if the employee is in a union

There are other exceptions, too

Some of the most common reasons that employers get into trouble with at-will employment and wrongful termination issues is because they think it’s appropriate to fire or terminate people whenever they’re unhappy with them or their actions. Some actions are protected.

For instance, your employees are allowed to speak with human resources or to make complaints about unfair treatment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are able to seek workers’ compensation (in most cases) if they are injured on the job without fear of retaliation. They can make claims of harassment or other concerns, too, and should not fear losing their jobs because of doing so.

If you want to terminate an employee, make sure you have the legal standing to do so

On the whole, you can fire people whenever you want, but you need to make sure you’re not doing so to retaliate. If you’re unsure if you’re going to be able to let someone go without a conflict, then you may want to look more closely into the law before deciding if terminating their role at this time is a good idea.