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What Is “At-Will” Employment?

According to the California Labor Code, at-will employment is employment that has no set duration and may therefore be terminated at any time and for any reason by either the employer or employee.  Of course, an employer is still barred from basing an employee’s termination on discriminatory reasons prohibited by the Fair Employment and Housing Act. It is important to determine if you are an at-will employee because if you are ever terminated, your options regarding bringing a wrongful termination suit will hinge on this factor.

Generally, at-will employees have very little legal recourse regarding wrongful termination. In fact, an employer may choose to fire an at-will employee any time the employer pleases and with no valid reason as long as the firing is not motivated by retaliatory or discriminatory reasons prohibited by the FEHA. The California Supreme Court has stated that an “employer may terminate its employees at will, for any or no reason … the employer may act peremptorily, arbitrarily, or inconsistently, without providing specific protections such as prior warning, fair procedures, objective evaluation, or preferential reassignment …

The mere existence of an employment relationship affords no expectation, protectable by law, that employment will continue, or will end only on certain conditions, unless the parties have actually adopted such terms.” Some employees are unclear as to whether their employers have adopted such terms that displace the at-will employment relationship. These terms are generally found in union contracts and some other employment contracts. If you are a member of a union, your union contract terms will prevail and your employer may be unable to terminate you as easily as it would an at-will employee. This is also true if you have a contract that clearly spells out the terms of your employment. These terms should also be found in any employment handbook you are given. If you are unsure about when and for what reasons you may be terminated, speak to your union representative or go over your employment contract and handbook with your supervisor to determine your rights regarding dismissal from the workplace.

Regardless of whether or not you are an at-will employee, if you believe that you were wrongfully terminated from your job, it is important to contact an employment law attorney in your area who is experienced in wrongful termination in order to protect your legal rights.

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