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Wrongful termination exceptions to at-will employment

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2021 | Wrongful Termination

Many workers in California are considered at-will employees. That means that they may leave their jobs if they want, or they may be terminated from their jobs for no reason by their employers. Because of this flexibility in retaining and leaving employment in the state, some Californians may have the erroneous belief that it is impossible to be wrongfully fired from a job.

Wrongful terminations can still happen in at-will employment states like California. There are exceptions to the at-will employment rules that permit aggrieved employees to seek redress when their employers take wrongful action against them. This post will explore some of those exceptions, but all readers are asked to take their specific employment law questions to their attorneys as this post does not provide any legal advice.

Covenants of good faith in employment agreements

In California and some other states, employment relationships are built upon covenants of good faith. That means that there is just cause for employers to make adverse employment decisions regarding the people who work for them and that employment terminations may not be based on malice. If an employer acts with malice or with bad faith in a decision to fire an at-will employee, that act may be wrongful under the law.

Prohibitions based on public policy

Public policies are rules and guidelines that can be found in state constitutions, laws, or administrative rules. California recognizes the public policy exception to at-will employment firings that violate public policy. For example, California prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on those workers’ inclusion in protected classes. If a worker is terminated based on discrimination then their firing violates the public policy of the state that prohibits discrimination. The worker may have a claim against their employer under the law.

Other exceptions to at-will employment terminations

There are other exceptions to the at-will employment rules of California. It is important that if a worker believes that they have been wrongfully terminated that they speak with an attorney who practices and understands California’s specific employment laws. There are different paths that workers may take to seek redress, and different types of damages that they may be eligible to pursue based on their claims.

No worker should have to face the challenges of losing their job for wrongful means. Employers do not have the right to fire their workers for wrongful, discriminatory, or retaliatory reasons. When these practices threaten the jobs of hardworking at-will employees, they should remember that they may be protected under the law and can advocate for their own needs with the help of their employment law attorneys.


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