What You Need to Know About California’s At-Will Law

at will employment california

Employers often hold a lot of power when it comes to making decisions about employees. But just because your employer has a lot of power in the workplace, it doesn’t mean you should take whatever treatment they throw your way.

This also applies if your employer fires you.

Even if you were terminated from an employment-at-will job, you might have the option to recover damages from your employer for wrongful termination.

No matter your work situation in California, you have the right to be treated lawfully by your boss.

In this article, we can help you understand when an “at-will” termination is unlawful and how to protect yourself.

For more information contact Starpoint Attorneys at Law.

What Is the At-Will Law in California?

Yes, California is an at-will employment state. At-will employment, by definition, means you or your employer can end your job for almost any reason at any time. This is a pretty broad power, but the at-will law is not a valid excuse for every job termination in California. 

Certain Employees Aren’t Subject to At-Will Employment in California

Even though California is an at-will employment state, not every employee is an at-will employee. Among employees who are not at-will are:

  • Many public sector employees and 
  • Employees with employment contracts. 

If you have an expressed or implied contract with your employer regarding how long your job is supposed to last, or what terms the employer can use to fire employees, you likely can’t be fired at will.

If you have a contract and your employer fires you without reason, you might be able to sue them for damages.

It’s not always easy to identify an employment contract that protects you from at-will termination, and you might have contract rights you didn’t know existed.

A skilled employment attorney can identify what paperwork or statements from your employer create valid contracts that can protect you from an arbitrary firing. 

Certain Reasons for Firing an At-Will Employee Are Illegal

At-will employees’ jobs might be less secure than contract or public sector employees, but at-will employees still have some job protections under California and federal laws.

In general, an employer (at-will or not) can’t fire you if their termination: 

  • Has a discriminatory motivation (e.g., based on your disability, religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, etc.);
  • Is retaliation for you claiming employee benefits/rights;
  • Is punishment for reporting unsafe or illegal circumstances at work;
  • Is punishment for refusing to engage in illegal acts; or
  • Is a reaction to you fulfilling certain court-attendance obligations.

As an at-will employee, you don’t always have to accept a termination as your employer’s 

“prerogative.” If you’re suspicious about the circumstances of your termination, speak to an attorney immediately to preserve your rights. 

Seeking Remedies After an Unlawful Termination

If your employer unlawfully fired you, you can recover damages by filing a complaint with the California Department of Industrial Relations. In many cases, you have only a year from the time of your termination to file this kind of complaint.

In some cases, you might have only 90 days to file a complaint. It's important to speak to an attorney immediately after a job termination to make sure you hit your filing deadlines.

If your employer breached your employment contract by firing you, you might be able to sue them for damages in civil court. An attorney can help you determine the best strategy for protecting yourself and recovering what you are owed. 

Our Attorneys Can Help You Make It Right

When you’re struggling with a workplace dispute, it’s rarely just business, it’s normally also personal. At Starpoint Employment Lawyers, we are highly skilled employment attorneys with an impeccable track record. We also give our clients the one-on-one attention necessary to find the best solutions for their employment issues. If you want an attorney who listens to you and knows how to win, talk to us. You can contact us online or call us at 310-424-9971 for a free consultation.

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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