California, like almost every other state in the United States, follows the general rule of “employment at will.” As a general rule, either an employer or an employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason or no reason. There is no general requirement that an employer is “fair” or have “just cause” to terminate an employee.
Despite this doctrine, there are exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. The most common claims for wrongful termination result from unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Employers may not discriminate against employees based on several protected characteristics, such as race, gender, age, disability and sexual orientation. If you believe you have been discriminated against for any reason, you should consult with a California employment lawyer to see if such discrimination falls into a category prohibited by federal, state or local law.
Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees for engaging in protected activity. Objecting to unlawful discrimination, whether against you or someone else, is protected by the law and the employer cannot take an adverse action against the employee who complains. Employers can also not retaliate against employees for objecting to unsafe workplaces or violations of the law. Both the California state legislature and California courts have developed protections for “whistleblowers” that allow them to bring claims for wrongful termination of employment.
It is important to remember that the employment at will doctrine is only a presumption. An employee may have an agreement, express or implied; that limits the employer’s right to termination. In some cases, this may be an explicit clause in a contract. In other instances, the employer’s handbook or policies and procedures manual may create an implied contract. Also, some employees are covered by union collective bargaining agreements or civil service laws that only allow the employer to terminate the employee for good cause.
If you have been terminated by your employer, it is always a good idea to consult with a one of our Orange County wrongful termination attorneys. The employment at will doctrine is not insurmountable, and an attorney will have to look carefully at the facts to determine if the employee has any claim for wrongful termination.