People in the Los Angeles area who hear the phrase, "employment at-will," may get the idea that an employer can fire someone on the spot, without warning, for any reason or even no reason at all. While this may have been true in former days, there are now important limits to the employment at-will rule that benefit California workers by giving them some additional protection from losing their jobs unfairly.
For instance, as this blog has discussed before, both our state and the federal government prohibit unlawful discrimination in the workplace and require a minimum wage. Other laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under a federal or state law, for example, by reporting a workers' compensation claim.
Moreover, there are other rules and doctrines that state courts will sometimes use, depending on the circumstances, to prevent an employer from arbitrarily firing an employee. For instance, some terminations will be struck down as against public policy. On other occasions, a court might determine that the employer in fact made some type of enforceable promise to the employee regarding job security.
An employee who has been let go unfairly should not assume that there is nothing he or she can do simply because of the employee's "at-will" status. Even without an explicit employment contract, a fired worker may still be able to rely on a variety of reasons to allege a wrongful termination and seek compensation and other relief from his or her employer. A California resident thinking about exploring this option should consider speaking with an experienced employment law attorney.