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What Does It Mean to Be an at Will Employee in California?

Whether they like it or not, most people in California need to work to earn an income to support themselves and their families. Although these people as employees have to come to work each day they are scheduled, and follow the internal rules of the company, most do not have a contract stating that they are hired for a specific period of time. In fact, if the employee does sign an employee handbook or other type of contract, it may specifically state that they are an at-will employee.

Many people do not necessarily know it means to be an at-will employee. Being an at-will employee means that the employee can quit their job at any point in time for any reason. The flip side of being an at-will employee, though, is that the company can fire an employee for almost any reason at any point in time. Sometimes there are procedures regarding the time between an employer giving an employee notice that they will be fired and their last day with the company, but beyond that there are only a few protections for the employee.

However, all employees regardless of whether they are at-will employees or not, cannot be fired for discriminatory reasons. Employers cannot base their decision on the employee’s race, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy and other protected classes. They also cannot fire an employee in retaliation for reporting illegal activity within the company. If the employee is fired for one of those reasons, the employer the employee may want to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Losing a job in California is never fun, but just because the employee does not agree with the decision, does not mean the employer did anything illegal. There are many decisions that are unfair and may not make sense, but since most employees are at-will employees, the companies are within their rights to fire employees for many different reasons. However, discrimination is not one of them, and employers who do fire on those grounds could be required to compensate the victim. Experienced attorneys understand the labor laws and may be able to protect employees’ rights.

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