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What does at-will employment mean?

California law states that employers can dismiss any of their employees at any time for any reason. This process is called “at-will” and is a law that has been adopted by many states across the country. What this means is that an employer can fire one of its employees without having to provide a reason for the termination.

Since California is an at-will state, you may wonder if that means employees will never have an opportunity to challenge or pursue legal action if they are ever let go. Even though employers can fire employees without reason, there are still certain situations where an employee can take legal action for wrongful termination.

Wrongful termination

Though an employer does not need to disclose a reason for firing an employee, there are circumstances where an employee cannot be fired because of certain exceptions. Most notably, employees are protected under anti-discriminatory laws, which mean they cannot be fired because of their gender, race or for a disability. If you are an employee who believes they may have been fired for discriminatory reasons, you may have a legal case against that employer.

At-will employment exceptions

There are exceptions to being fired at-will that can be challenged. These include the following:

  • You have a contract with the employer that state there is either good cause for the termination or that certain procedures must be followed prior to termination.
  • You were hired for a specific amount of time that was agreed upon and not reached.
  • You are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that requires a just cause for termination and allows for due process.
  • If you are a public-sector employee who is protected by a union agreement or civil service laws that include information about termination rules.
  • If you have set-up through your employer a long-term employment status or a protocol was established to follow certain rules of termination

Being fired regardless if there was a valid reason given can be both stressful and discouraging. Many times, you may not have recourse against your employer for a firing, but there are situations that you do. If you feel you have reason to pursue legal action against an employer for wrongful termination, you should collect as much viable evidence as possible and contact an attorney who is knowledgeable workplace rights.

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It can be hard to take the first steps in these cases when your livelihood is at stake, but know that you have rights available to you. Let us help you determine what you can do to bring an end to your employer's unlawful behavior.