What Does “At Will” Employment Mean in California?

Most employment in California is defined as being “at-will.” Here “at-will” employment may be terminated at any time by either the employer or the employee with or without cause. Though this may seem very simple, several exceptions have come about with contractual, statutory or public policy related measures, which can greatly limit an employer’s ability to termination and employee. 

Statues that focus on anti-discrimination are often cited as a limitation on an employer’s right to terminate an employee. Here, employers are unable to terminate an employee based on several protected reasons, including race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, or sexual orientation. 

Another statute that limits “at-will” termination of an employee protects whistleblowers from retaliation. Generally, employees can report unlawful conduct without being subject to termination. Here, employees may be protected from retaliation when disclosing details about a violation of state or federal law to law enforcement or a government agency. 

Other statutes, in part, protect employees in the areas of union activities and leave of absence. 

Needless to say, “at-will” employment can be tricky and the surrounding facts of any “at-will” employment issue will have an important impact on any “case.” If you are an employee or an employer who would like to learn more about how the law may apply to your situation, contact SmartLaw to find a legal resource that is right for you. 

Serving Southern California counties, SmartLaw is the best way to find the right qualified legal resource. SmartLaw is certified by the State Bar of California and the American Bar Association. SmartLaw is a public service of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.

The materials and information available on this website are for informational purposes only. The materials and information available on this website are not for the purpose of providing legal advice and should not be relied upon or used in place of legal advice from an attorney. You should contact an attorney to receive advice with respect to any particular issue or problem you may have. For free assistance finding the right legal resource, contact SmartLaw by calling (866)SMARTLAW or by visiting us at SmartLaw.org.