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Exceptions to at-will employment

Many workers in California assume when they are hired that they are guaranteed employment unless they screw up or do something wrong to justify being terminated. The truth is the majority of employees in the state are hired on an at-will basis, which means the employer can terminate employment at any time and for any reason.

According to FindLaw, employees should assume they are being hired on an at-will basis unless otherwise stated. Signing a contract that affirms they can only be fired for good reason is the best way for an employee to legally fight in the case the employer does not have just cause for letting them go. 

The Society of Human Resource Management states that employers can protect themselves by having their new employees sign an at-will agreement. This acknowledgement gives the company proper defense in most cases if the worker files a claim against them for wrongful termination. 

There are some exceptions to California's law about at-will employment. These include:

  • Union members who are protected by a just cause bargaining agreement
  • Employees with written contracts pertaining to just cause termination
  • Employees of the public sector who fall under civil service laws
  • Employees whose managers made assurances of long-term employment or had progressive discipline policies

While an employer cannot be sued for at-will termination, legal action can be taken for actions related to statute violations, retaliation or discrimination. To protect themselves, business owners should document termination reasons, especially if they are related to poor performance or other types of misconduct. This will reduce the chances of being accused of discrimination.

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