Terminating an employee for reasons that violate the law or an employer's failure to comply with the terms of an employment agreement.

You have probably heard of the term “at-will” employment.  This doctrine is generally the law in California and is certainly included in almost any employee handbook you may receive or is referenced in any acknowledgement of receipt of an employee handbook that you will be asked to sign.  It means that the employer can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason so long as the termination is not for an unlawful reason.  So an employer can fire you because they don’t like the color shirt you wear, because they don’t like your taste in automobiles or for just about any random or arbitrary reasons such as you are the 12th employee hired and they happen to throw a dart at a dartboard to decide who to fire and the dart lands on number 12.  Terminations can be for random reasons that lack logic under the “at-will” doctrine.

Furthermore, the employer does not have to have a reason to terminate an employee.  If the employer simply decides it wants to go in a different direction and offers no real justification for firing an employee it is not unlawful to do so.

However, an employer cannot fire an employee for reasons that violate the fundamental public policies of the United States or the State of California.  This means you cannot be fired for reasons that violate a state or federal law or even a state or federal administrative agency regulation.  So you cannot be fired for reasons such as race, sex, religions, age or disability for example.  Nor can you be fired for reporting illegal company activities, complaining about unpaid wages or complaining about unsafe working conditions.

Also, some employers it seems have been misguided into believing that the “at-will” doctrine means there can never be any type of employment contract claims brought against the company.  This is not true.  As far as contracts go, the “at-will” doctrine means the employee cannot claim he is entitled to be employed on a long-term basis, for any particular length of time or that he or she can only be fired for good cause.  At-will employment does not mean an employer can make any promise to entice an employee to accept a job and then break that promise later.  Promises regarding compensation, job duties, travel and job benefits that are not kept can form the basis of a breach of contract claim, even if you are an at-will employee.

Also, in some cases, some employees are actually parties to employment contracts requiring that they can only be terminated for good cause.  In the rare instances of employees with such contracts then the failure to have a good reason to terminate an employee is a violation of the contract and gives rise to a civil claim for damages.

These are just samples of the exceptions to the rule of “at-will” employment.  Please contact me for further information.