The Rights Of At-Will Employees In California

A recent New York lawsuit demonstrates how difficult life as an at-will employee can be. A home health care provider fired a 53-year-old nurse because her supervisors learned that she had uterine cancer, the woman alleges. The woman incurred exorbitant medical bills while she fought the cancer, which has been in remission for over a year.

After the company hired her in November 2008, she missed a week of work in March 2009 when she first learned about the cancer. Several weeks later, she underwent an operation and missed a month of work. Additional complications forced her to miss other days in subsequent months. Nevertheless, she said that she covered all of her job duties while undergoing treatment and that her supervisors regularly told her that she was doing an excellent job.

The home health care provider eventually fired the woman, and, when she asked why, the human resources director simply said she was an “at-will” employee without elaborating further. The woman claims other workers heard that the company fired her because it did not want to lose money due to her illness. If you are an at-will employee and believe your termination was unjust, a Los Angeles discrimination attorney can advise you on what you can do.

The Rights Of At-Will Employees

Like most states, California presumes that all employees are at-will. This means that employees can quit or companies can fire them for any reason (at their will). At-will employees are in contrast to contract employees, which have contracts that specify the conditions under which a company may terminate the employee.

Even for at-will employees, employers may not terminate them for any of the following reasons:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Marital Status
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Refusing to break the law
  • In retaliation for filing a discrimination or safety claim
  • Taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Sometimes an employer’s conduct may lead an employee to believe that the employer will only terminate him or her under certain conditions. Even though the employee is technically still at-will, a court may find that certain contract-like conditions have emerged. These situations can be difficult to prove, however, so it is important to speak with an experienced employment attorney if you suspect this applies to you.

It is not always easy to determine whether a company has terminated an employee for one of the reasons outlined above. Companies will do their best to make it look like the termination was lawful. Contact a Los Angeles employment attorney at the Law Offices of Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob if you are an at-will employee whom your employer terminated unlawfully.



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