Is California an “At-Will” Employment State?

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When you hire an employee, you don’t anticipate letting them go. In fact, you hire them because they have proven to be the best candidate for the job, standing out among all the others on paper and during interviews. However, terminations do occur, as they are part of the business world. Many employees try to claim discrimination, despite the terms of their at-will employment being clear. Understanding the rules about at-will employment is essential to ensuring you do not let an employee go under questionable circumstances. If you’re facing legal troubles as a result of at-will employment, you’ll want to contact a Los Angeles wrongful termination defense attorney.

What Is “At-Will” Employment?

With all but one state defining itself as an “at-will” employment state, understanding the implications of the term is essential.

At-will employment grant both employers and employees the right to terminate the working relationship at any point without warning or reason. This means a company can fire an employee for no reason, and a worker can quit whenever and without justification.

It should be explicitly clear to employees that you operate under that at-will employment law. Ensuring your employees understand the at-will agreement is essential. You should include this information in the handbook and contracts employees must sign.

Can Wages Be Affected?

At-will employment grants employers the right to change wages, hours, and benefits. However, they cannot do so in violation of federal and state labor laws. California requires changes in salary for exempt employees to be communicated prospectively. Non-exempt employees must sign a notice when hired and upon changes, acknowledging the terms of employment.

Are There Exceptions?

There are exceptions to the rules. You cannot fire an employee for any illegal reason, like discrimination against protected classes. These characteristics include gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.

Similarly, if you have an implied agreement, you may be subject to lawsuits. This means if an employee excels at their job and has no record of warnings or disciplinary action against them, you would not be able to fire them if the stipulations of the at-will employment in their contract specify that poor job performance can lead to termination. This is the implied agreement that an employee will not be terminated without reasonable cause.

You cannot fire an employee for refusing to engage in fraud or other illegal activities. For example, if you ask an employee to falsify records and they refuse, firing them a week later because you are angry with them under the guise of “at-will” employment will generally lead to a lawsuit.

If you’re facing legal issues due to the at-will employment clause, you’ll want to ensure you retain the guidance of a competent lawyer. At the Lee Law Office, we are dedicated to keeping your business shielded from unfounded claims and unjust lawsuits. Reach out today to discuss the details of your case.