• Sasha Struthers

California's At-Will Presumption Explained

California is an "At-Will" employment state, meaning an employer can terminate an employee with or without cause and an employee can quit at any time. However, there are strings attached. Here are the few exceptions to the "At-Will" employment presumption.

A contract or collective bargaining agreement stating otherwise.

If an employer and employee enter into a contract or collective bargaining agreement that requires "for cause" to terminate the employee then the employer is bound to the procedures outlined in said agreement.

Employment policies or handbooks have a "For Cause" termination section.

If there is a stand alone policy (written, oral, or implied) or a handbook that states a "For Cause" termination as the only reason to terminate an employee. This is a minor pet peeve of mine, but employers usually have no idea what their handbooks say. I have no idea how in the world my clients even get their handbooks. Some find them on the internet. Some got them from a job they used to have. Some don't even know. But employers often times have no idea they gave up their "At-Will" power by their handbook. They will terminate an employee against their own polices they didn't even know they had!

Please, pretty please, employers read you handbooks or throw them in a fire. Maybe before that hire an attorney to look them over as there is probably some good stuff in there along with a lot of really out dated bad stuff.

The underlying reason for the termination is predicated on a discriminatory purpose.

This is a little less obvious than some would think. An employer cannot terminate an employee who is in a protected class or has exercised their legal rights. Here is a list of most reasons an employer cannot fire an employee:

  • Employee complains to employer, co-workers, government agency, files a lawsuit or other claim or seeks legal advice about wages, employment rights or workplace safety;

  • Race, color, national origin, ancestry, citizenship;

  • Sex, sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, gender expression;

  • Religion;

  • Mental and physical disability, medical condition, genetic information, pregnancy;

  • Age;

  • Political activities or affiliations;

  • Military or veteran status; or

  • Status as victim of domestic violence, stalking or assault.

California has done a good job of stripping employers of some but not all of their rights to run a business how and with whom they see fit. However, a word of caution to all employers- be very careful in terminating employees. Wrongful termination lawsuits are very common and can be very costly. Before you terminate an employee for any reason you may want to consult with an employment attorney to flush out any potential red flags or liabilities.

If you have any employee issues, employment law questions or questions regarding this post feel free to reach out to me. You may contact me by phone at (818) 306-0686 or by email at sasha@struthers.legal

Visit my website at struthers.legal and subscribe to my newsletter to get up-to date information on employment laws. You can also follow me on Twitter and Youtube for employment tips and law updates.

The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.