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Is California an at-will employment state?

Many employers tell workers why they are being let go, just as many employees still include reasons for leaving in resignation letters. Labor laws in California and many other states permit employment “at-will,” which means reasons aren’t mandatory when a worker quits or an employer ends the relationship.

The at-will employment rule is similar to a no-fault divorce — no one has to bring grounds for a separation. This can be a relief for workers who want to avoid burning bridges that might affect future employment. Unfortunately, some employers may use the rule to hide true reasons for a firing.

Wrongful termination is illegal. Los Angeles workers may not be fired as a retaliatory measure or due to discrimination. Employers sometimes create an atmosphere that drives away workers — often to avoid paying jobless benefits.

Workers are forced out the door by a hostile work environment. Employees who prove they had to quit due to intolerable working conditions are victims of constructive termination.

The California Chamber of Commerce cautions employers about wrongful termination. The organization recommends making at-will employment clear in all oral and written communications with workers including job interviews, employee handbooks and company policies. Employers who want to exercise the at-will rule should not make job security promises and then try to backpedal.

Employers often know the rules they shouldn’t break better than the people who work for them. In fact, some companies count on employees to lack knowledge about California and federal labor laws. So many rules and exceptions exist that it is difficult for workers to understand fully what rights they have.

Consequently, many employees just don’t know whether they actually have a valid claim. Employment attorneys help workers assess the situation and gather evidence. Lawyers also know the proper channels to file complaints.

An employer may not retaliate against a worker who seeks legal advice and files an employment claim.

Source: Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, “At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination” Dec. 31, 2014

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