California labor laws presume that all employees are hired at will. Basically, this implies that the employer can fire an employee at any time with or with no reason whatsoever. It also means that an employee can leave employment with or without providing a reason.
However, it is important to understand that there are state and federal laws in place that safeguard the rights of both employers and employees.
Unlawful reasons for firing an employee in California
Even though California is an at-will state, an employer cannot terminate their employee for unlawful reasons like these:
- Based on race, sexuality, disability, religion, gender or other protected characteristics
- On account of their political persuasion
- On the retaliatory ground
So what are the benefits of at-will employment?
Both the employer and the employee are entitled to rights under at-will employment laws. At-will laws allow employers to dismiss and replace employees in the shortest time possible with minimum disruption to business operations.
On the other hand, at-will employment allows the employee to leave their role without the risk of violating their employment contract.
Exceptions to California’s at-will employment
California at-will employment comes with certain exceptions. Here are some of them:
- Civic employees enjoy protection by special laws as well as the nature of their contracts
- Unionized employees, especially those covered by collective bargaining agreement, are often exempt since their contracts require a valid reason for termination
- C-suite employment contracts that require employers to have reasonable cause for dismissal
- Situations where dismissal goes against public policy
Whether you are an at-will employee or not, it is important to understand that every employer has a duty to treat their workers fairly. Find out how you can pursue your rights if you believe you are a victim of wrongful termination.