Most employers in California like to hire employees on an at-will basis. This gives both the employer and the employee the power to end the employment relationship for almost any reason and at almost any time. This gives employees the power to quit at any time for any reason. It gives them the freedom to change their employment if they do not like the fit and they can do so at any time for the most part.
On the other side, for the most part, employers do not have to have good cause to fire an employee and can do so even if it is not fair or there is not an apparent legitimate business reason for firing the employee. Being an at-will employee limits the employees’ ability to claim wrongful termination, but there are exceptions to that rule.
Exceptions to firing at-will employees
One is that employers cannot discriminate against employees who are in certain protected classes. Employers cannot fire employees based on their race, age, gender, sex, disability, religion, national origin and other protected classes. This includes not firing women due to their being pregnant.
Employers can also not fire an employee in retaliation for being a whistle blower. They also cannot retaliate against employees who participate in investigations into illegal activity, which includes whether the employer discriminated against an employee.
Employers also typically cannot fire employees, except for good cause, if they are under an employment contracts through a collective bargaining agreement or other types of contracts. There are situations when there could be an implied contract between the employer and employee, which only allows the employer to fire an employee for good cause. Implied contracts are usually based on the language used during the hiring process and the implications made for duration of employment or that an employee can only be fired for good cause.
If at-will employees are fired based on the exceptions stated above, they could have a wrongful termination claim in California. These claims, especially for at-will employees, are fact-specific and can be complicated. Employers do not usually blatantly state their true intentions when firing employees. Experienced attorneys know the facts to look for and could guide an employee through the process.