What Does “At-Will” Employment Mean?

Reliable Legal Advice

Without a proper understanding of “at-will” employment, California businesses can leave themselves exposed to liability from claims by former employees. Protect your business interests by consulting with an experienced California employment law attorney at Startup Company Counsel. We will help your company comply with current employment laws and work to resolve disputes with employees before they escalate into legal claims.

What “At-Will” Employment is … And What it Isn’t

The California Labor Code contains a presumption that any employment without a specified term may be terminated at the will of either the employer or employee. While some say this means employers can fire any employee at any time for any reason, it is important to remember that an employee cannot be fired for an illegal reason. Employers who do not follow wrongful termination and equal opportunity employment laws can expose themselves to legal liability, civil lawsuits, fines and other sanctions from government regulatory agencies.

It is also important to realize that not every employee is subject to the at-will employment provision. Public sector employees are often protected by civil service laws. Employers themselves can change an employee’s at-will status by executing an employment contract which requires good reason for termination, or by saying or doing things which indicate that the employment will not be terminated at-will. Finally, many union members are protected by collective bargaining agreements which provide that an employer will not terminate the employment without good reason. In those cases, the default rule of termination at-will is changed, and employers who attempt to fire for no reason can face liability for breach of contract or wrongful termination.

California law strictly prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. An employer cannot defend itself from claims of such discrimination by invoking the default rule of employment being terminable at-will. Employers who violate discrimination laws not only face liability from former employees but can face fines and sanctions from various government agencies, bad publicity and loss of goodwill, and other costly consequences.

Reliable Legal Advice to Protect Your Business From Liability

Startup Company Counsel is here to protect your business from all legal claims by former and current employees. We will help you put effective legal procedures in place to ensure a smooth working relationship between employer and employee. Schedule a consultation today by calling (408) 441-7555, emailing admin@startupcompanycounsel.com, or submitting a request through our online contact form.

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