What Exactly Does Employment At-Will Mean In California?
At-will employment means either party—the employer or the employee—can terminate the relationship without there being any penalty. That’s the simple concept, though in the last 30 years or so, the idea that the employer can fire you with or without reason has come to be limited to the employer now being restricted from firing you for illegal reasons.
What Qualifies As Wrongful Termination In California?
Wrongful termination is when an employer terminates an employee for a reason that is prohibited under California law. . It can be something as simple as responding to a jury summons, going to the court and moving forward with jury duty, and then returning to work after the trial has ended, only to be told by your employer, “I don’t believe you were serving on jury duty, so I’m firing you.” That is illegal. There are certainly dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons that are illegal or improper that would fall under the broad category of wrongful termination.
Is Wrongful Termination Hard To Prove?
It depends; the burden of proof on an employee is a preponderance of the evidence. While it may not sound like bringing a few more facts than the other side to tip the balance in your favor is that difficult, it can be complicated in reality. Employees who go to trial in these cases have to persuade a jury that the reason they were fired was something wrongful versus bad performance or lack of reliability (like the employee not showing up for work). Depending upon whether there are emails, documents, or witnesses, that will complicate who is more likely to be successful in persuading a jury.
Are There Exceptions To Employment At-Will In California?
When an employee has a written contract with an employer, it may specify the employee has been employed for a term of one year and that the employee can only be fired for certain reasons. Typically, executives in a company will have “for cause” restrictions that say they can only be fired if, for example, they are intoxicated at work. That’s one example of an exception in a written contract.
Another example is when the employee is part of a unionized workforce where there is a process for terminating employees under either a collective bargaining agreement or under what’s called a memorandum of understanding. A city might, for instance, have a contract with a police force that makes it extremely difficult to terminate police officers other than for very clear serious causes, and there is a whole process for dealing with that. Police officers for nearly all cities in the United States have a contract, either a memorandum of understanding or a collective bargaining agreement, as well as a statute (in California, it is called the Police Officer Bill of Rights) that govern how police officers can be terminated.
If My Employer Violated the Terms of the Employee Handbook by Firing Me, Can They Be Held Responsible for That Violation?
You must read the employee handbook carefully to see what it says, what promises it makes, or what policies it specifically announces. Most employee handbooks will say this is not a contract, and many will also say that the terms can be changed without giving prior notice to the employee. What is promised and what constrains an employer from firing an employee may or may not be contained in the terms of the employment handbook, but nevertheless, whatever the employment handbook says can be a very important factor in determining whether there has been a wrongful or illegal termination.
For more information on Employment At-Will in the State of California, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (310) 477-7767 today.
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