At-will employment in California

California employees can be classified in a number of different ways. It is important for employees and employers to understand what type of employee a person is. This is because the classification will effect the person’s rights when it comes to termination.

In general, there are two types of employees. Employees with a contract for an at-will employment and those with a contract for a different term. This distinction is important because employees who are at-will employees can be terminated at any time for any reason. Employees who are under other contracts can only be fired for reasons stated in the contract — usually only for “good cause.”

While many people may believe that only those with written contracts have protections, this is not true. In California, at-will employment is the default, but a written contract is not necessary to prove that a contract existed. Implied-in-fact and verbal agreements can also constitute employment contracts that give employees protection.

In fact, form statements that try to establish a person as an at-will employee, employee-handbook language that says a person is an at-will employee or language that says no contract exists may not be enough to prove that a person is an at-will employee in California. In other words, if an employer fails to execute a proper at-will agreement or fails to use any document that shows a person is an at-will employee, then the existence of a contract could be found.

Employees that have been terminated need to determine if they had a contract with their employer that could have prevented the termination. If a contract existed and the employee was terminated anyway, a wrongful termination may have occurred. An attorney can help determine if an employee has a wrongful termination claim.

Source: Sacramento Business Journal, “California employers often misunderstand at-will employment,” Steve Holden, accessed on Nov. 3, 2014

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