In California, most employees are considered at-will employees, which means that not only can the employee leave the company at any time, but an employer can also terminate the employee at any time, with or without cause or prior notice. Under the law, “cause” is a fair and honest reason that is regulated by good faith on the part of an employer.
Exceptions to at-will employment
There are exceptions to at-will employment, including public-sector employees who are often governed by civil service laws as well as employees represented by unions. Workers with written contracts are also not considered at-will employees. In some cases, managers may make statements that indicate an employee can only be terminated for cause, which may then allow the courts to determine that employee is not an at-will employee.
Progressive discipline policy
Progressive discipline policies are those that have a series of warnings and disciplines for infractions that increase in severity with each infraction. Employment law courts have held that employees who are under those types of policies may not be terminated until each level of discipline has been applied. For instance, the first incidence of tardiness may result in a verbal warning, the second a written warning; the third may incur suspension with pay, the fourth tardy would result in suspension without pay, and the fifth would end in termination. Until the fifth tardy, the employee cannot be terminated.
What qualifies as wrongful termination?
There are several ways that an at-will employee may have a wrongful termination claim. If the termination was based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or political beliefs or if it was a breach of an employment contract, whether spoken or written, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. You also cannot be terminated for whistleblowing or exercising a right or privilege. Rights or privileges include taking sick leave, taking meal breaks, filing a workers’ compensation claim or serving on a jury. If your job conditions are intolerable to the point that you are forced to resign, it is possible that you have a wrongful termination claim.
Despite the fact that most employees in the state are at-will employees, there are circumstances where you could file for a wrongful termination claim. An attorney may help explain your rights under employment law.