California law provides for at will employment unless there’s an understanding to the contrary. Because of this, an employer may consider it’s free to terminate an employee at any time and for no reason or any reason.
The reality is much more complicated. A variety of exceptions and limits to at will employment have built up over time. An employer who decides to fire a worker must not have a false sense of protection that the at will doctrine will shield it against a wrongful termination suit.
Written or verbal representations by the company of continuing employment, other statements by the company that create the establishment of a progressive disciplinary policy, or an anticipation of job security can create this kind of understanding that is implied.
An employer may not fire an employee due to her or his race, handicap, sex, age, faith, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation. Because the features that are safe are numerous, one or more of them are likely to apply to most workers. Therefore, an employee often will be able to claim a conclusion is founded on prohibited discrimination.
An employer may not fire an employee in breach of a significant and fundamental public policy. Such cases usually involve conclusions based on an employee:
Performing a legal duty
The at will doctrine is further undermined by the burden of proof is allocated in wrongful termination suits. If that burden is satisfied by the worker, then the weight shifts to the company to put forward a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason behind the conclusion.
In light of these restrictions, “at will employment” frequently may be more a myth than a reality. A company so must follow employment practices that are attentively designed to reduce the danger that it is going to be sued by a terminated worker.