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FAQ: Exceptions to At-Will Employment in California

Although the “at-will” employment rule in California states that employers can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason, there are some exceptions. An employee can still file a claim against their employer if they were terminated for certain reasons--regardless if they have an “at-will” contract. Our clients often ask us many questions about what qualifications need to be met to file a wrongful termination claim in California. For such reasons, our Los Angeles employment law attorneys have answered the most common questions asked about “at-will” employment exceptions.

What Is “At-Will” Employment?

At-will employment is when the employer or employee can terminate at any time and for any reason, or no reason at all. In most cases, when an employee signs a work contract/agreement in California, they will notice that the offer will mention the at-will employment rule. All employment in the state is presumed to be “at-will” unless the parties agree otherwise.

What Are Exceptions to the At-Will Rule?

Although your employment contract might state that your employer can fire you at any time and for any reason (or no reason), there are some exceptions to this rule. Below, we have put together a list of reasons that could make your situation a wrongful termination:

  • Public Policy: Your employer can’t fire you for public policy reasons, such as refusing to perform an act that the state law prohibits, reporting a violation of the law, engaging in acts that are in the public’s interests, or exercising a statutory right. For example, your employer can’t fire you for attending jury duty.
  • Implied Contract: An implied contract is another exception to the at-will law.For example, if your employer gave you an oral assurance that you would get a promotion soon or get second chances after misconduct, you might have a case.
  • Discrimination: Federal and state laws prohibit workers from making employment decisions based on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, nationality, age, disability, or veteran status.
  • Retaliation: Retaliation is another statute-based exception to the at-will rule. Retaliation occurs when an employer retaliates against an employee for engaging in legally protected activities, such as claiming minimum wage or overtime compensation, opposing unlawful practices, filing for worker’s compensation, or reporting illegal activity.

Can I Still Sue My Employer if I Resigned?

In some cases, employees can sue their employers under an exception to the at-will employment rule, even if they resigned from their job. This typically falls under California’s “wrongful constructive termination,” which means that employers make working conditions so unpleasant for a worker that they have no choice but to resign. You should speak to an experienced employment law attorney to determine if your situation falls under “wrongful constructive termination.”

What Should I Do If I Have a Wrongful Termination Case?

If you believe that your situation is an exception from the at-will employment rule, you should speak to an experienced attorney about your situation. Our Los Angeles employment law attorneys have more than 25 years of experience helping employees reach agreeable outcomes in employment disputes. We fight for our clients’ rights, and we help them get the best possible results for their case.

If you have additional questions about at-will employment exceptions, contact our Los Angeles employment law attorneys today at (213) 292-5444!

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