California is one of 49 states that is an employment-at-will state. What this means for you is that your employer has the right to hire and fire you at any time, without just cause and without giving you prior notice.
If you recently became the subject of an at-will termination, you may wonder if you have any legal right to protest the termination or pursue legal action. Unfortunately, the answer is no in most cases. However, the Society for Human Resource Management does note that the California Labor Code does detail a few exceptions to employment-at-will, which you can explore below.
Exceptions to employment-at-will
There are three notable exceptions to employment-at-will in California. One may apply to you if you qualify as any one of the following:
- An employee who is under the protection of a union or a collective bargaining agreement that requires your employer to show “just cause” for a standard termination
- A public-sector employee who has the protection of civil service laws and/or a “memorandum of understanding” between your union and the regulatory body that handles discipline and termination
- A private- or public-sector employee who has a written contract from your employer that requires your employer to give you just cause for termination
If you can prove that you qualify as any of the above, and if you can prove that your employer did not have “just cause” for terminating employment, you may have a case of wrongful termination.
Overcoming the presumption of employment-at-will
There is one other way in which you may become exempt from employment-at-will, and that is if you can overcome the presumption of it. For instance, if your employer or manager explicitly stated or implied that you had long-term job security, he or she may have unwittingly created an exception for you. Likewise, if your employer maintained a strict “progressive discipline” policy in which it could not fire employees before imposing a series of warnings and lesser punishments, and then it fired you without adhering to said policy, you may have a case of wrongful termination.
California’s employment-at-will presumption is straightforward and leaves little room for argument. However, if you know or suspect that an exception applies to you, consult with a legal professional.