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At-Will Employees Can Be Wrongfully Terminated

August 16, 2018 – If you’re employed in California, chances are your employer likes to constantly remind you that your employment is at-will. Yes. California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning an employer generally can terminate your employment at any time for any reason or no reason at all. However, an employer cannot terminate an employee based on an unlawful reason.

Reason number one: anti-discrimination laws. Several federal and state statutes impose limitations on the right of an employer to terminate an employee at will. For example, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (often referred to as the “FEHA”) prohibits employers from terminating employees based on a protected category. Protected categories include an employee’s race/national origin, sex/gender, gender identity/gender expression, sexual orientation, pregnancy, a disability/medical condition, religion, age (over forty), marital status, and veteran status.

Reason number two: public policy. Employers also cannot terminate an employee if doing so is against a fundamental public policy of California. What is a fundamental public policy? Just look at the Constitution, a statute, or an administrative rule. For example, the FEHA can be the underlying public policy in a wrongful termination claim. California’s whistleblower statute can also be an underlying public policy, as it prohibits employers from terminating employees who refuse to engage in unlawful activity or report reasonably-believed violations of state or federal laws, rules, or regulations.

These exceptions make one wonder, is at-will employment ever really at-will?

Know your rights,