What does it mean to be employed “at-will?”
At-will employment means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time, without cause or prior notice. Employees, too, are able to terminate employment at any time without cause or notice. Does that mean you can be fired for literally any reason?
Not exactly. Under the Labor Code, the cause for termination must be fair and honest, regulated by good faith on the part of the employer. There are several statutory limitations on at-will employment. These include anti-discrimination statutes. For example, employers cannot terminate an employee based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, health, marital status, etc.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, employers are also not allowed to interfere with employees in exercising collective bargaining rights. Terminating an employee for exercising these rights is a violation of the law.
Whistleblowers are also protected from retaliation and cannot be fired based on at-will employment. If an employee reports certain unlawful conduct including violations of state or federal law, employers cannot use that whistleblowing as grounds for termination.
If an employee takes certain leaves of absence allowed under employment law, despite being employed at-will, the employer cannot terminate the employee for it. This includes leave for work-related injuries, maternity and physical/mental disability-related leave.
As you can see, just because California is an at-will state does not give your employer the blanket power of terminating whoever it wants, whenever it wants. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, you may have a case against your employer. Speak to our employment law attorneys.