In at will employment states, both employers and employees have the freedom to end the employment relationship at any time, with or without prior notice. California, like many U.S. states, follows the at will employment doctrine. This means that in California, unless there’s a specific employment contract or agreement in place, employment relationships are presumed to be at will.
Exceptions to At-Will Employment
While California primarily follows the at will employment doctrine, there are exceptions to this rule, and specific situations where employees are protected from at will termination.
- Employment Contracts: When employees have written contracts with employers specifying a fixed employment duration and conditions for termination, the at will doctrine may not apply during the contract’s duration.
- Implied Contracts: Sometimes, employers may inadvertently create implied contracts through written policies, verbal assurances, or other conduct that suggests job security.
- Public Policy Exceptions: Employees in California cannot be terminated for reasons that infringe on public policy. For instance, an employee cannot be fired for not wanting to participate in illegal activities or for whistleblowing on their employer’s illegal actions.
- Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: California acknowledges an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in relationships pertaining to employment. Employers must treat employees fairly when terminating their employment.
While at will employment provides flexibility, certain exceptions and legal protections ensure that employees are not unfairly terminated. Consulting legal counsel or referring to California labor laws can help employers and employees navigate the complexities of employment relationships in the state.