California is one of the many states which presume that every employee hired for a job is "at-will." At-will employment means that the employee doesn't have a clearly defined employment agreement with his employer. And since that is the case, the employer can dismiss the employee at any time he wants for whatever reason. In turn, the employee can quit the job, even if he just feels like it.
However, the laws protect the rights of at-will employees in California by inhibiting the following as grounds for termination or forced resignation:
- At-will employees are protected from harassment based on or discrimination against race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act.
- Retaliation against the employee for being the whistleblower on illegal or improper conduct is also prohibited under the California Labor Code, and Health and Safety Code.
- Employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees who take family medical leave. The CA Family Rights Act and US Family Medical Leave Act inhibit such action,
- Retaliation on grounds of workers' compensation for a work-related injury under the Labor Code.
- The National Labor Relations Act is against retaliation because of union activity or for participating in union investigations.
- Employees cannot be terminated for participating in an investigation for discrimination or harassment case (CA-FEHA and Civil Rights Act).
As proven by the laws, there are limitations to the power of the employer from firing his employees. They can still possibly face lawsuits if they abuse or misuse this power. Employees may ask for monetary compensation or even their regular job back if ever they decide to file a lawsuit against their employers. There are a few methods that may protect the company in order to avoid such lawsuits.
- Make sure that all employees understand that they are employed at-will. Have them sign an agreement for documentation purposes.
- Employers may spell out why and how the employee can be terminated. Again, make sure that the employee understands and agrees to the terms.
- Find out if your managers know about at-will employment. Educate them about it if not.
- Make sure too that the agreement does not guarantee the employees any future employment with the company.
Making the employees understand their situation in the company is a vital way to avoid lawsuits that may arise from terminating at-will employees. Consult an employment law attorney to know more about wrongful termination.