Bartz Law Group

Employee Rights Advocates

Is California an “at-will” state? Are there exceptions?

California an at-will state

If you are an employee in California, you might have heard the term “at-will” employment. The concept means that both the employer and the employee can terminate their working relationship at any time and for any reason, if it is not illegal.

What is the “At-Will” Employment Rule in California?

California is an at-will employment state, which means that if you don’t have an employment contract, you can be terminated for any reason or no reason. Employers are not required to have a reason to fire you, and you are not required to give a reason for quitting. However, there are some exceptions to this rule that you should know about.

What is the “Implied Contract” Exception?

One of the most common exceptions to at-will employment is the “implied contract” exception. This exception applies when an employer’s actions or words create an expectation of job security or a promise of continued employment. If you can show that your employer made promises to you or led you to believe that your job was secure, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.

Can there be an Implied Contract not to Terminate Employment?

There can be an implied contract not to terminate employment. This can happen when an employer makes promises or representations to an employee about job security or employment conditions that lead the employee to believe they will not be fired without just cause.

For example, if an employer promises that you will have a job as long as you meet certain performance standards, that promise could create an implied contract not to terminate employment without just cause.

What is an Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing?

The “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” exception applies when an employer terminates an employee in bad faith, such as to avoid paying a bonus or to prevent the vesting of stock options. If you can show that your employer acted in bad faith, you could sue for wrongful termination.

What is the “Public Policy” Exception to At-Will Employment?

The “public policy” exception to at-will employment applies when an employer terminates an employee for reasons that violate public policy. For example, if an employer terminates you for reporting safety violations or refusing to engage in illegal activity, that termination would violate public policy.

Can I sue My Employer for Fraud as a Result of Wrongful Termination?

If your employer made false statements to induce you to take the job and then terminated you in violation of public policy, you could sue for fraud. To succeed in a fraud claim, you must show that your employer made false statements with the intent to induce you to take the job and that you relied on those false statements to your detriment. If you believe you have a fraud claim, you should hire a California employment attorney to evaluate your case.

Can I Sue My Employer under an Exception to At-Will Employment if I Resigned?

If you resigned from your job, you may still be able to sue your employer if you were forced to resign due to illegal conduct. Under California law, if an employer engages in illegal conduct that would have led to your termination had you not resigned, you may be able to bring a claim for “constructive discharge.”

A constructive discharge occurs when an employer makes working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person would feel forced to resign. Examples of intolerable working conditions that could result in constructive discharge include harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and working conditions that violate public policy.

However, you will need to show that the employer’s illegal conduct was the reason for your resignation. This can be challenging, as it requires proving that the working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign.

While California is an “at-will” state, meaning that employers can terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all, there are several important exceptions to this rule. If you have been wrongfully terminated in violation of one of these exceptions, speak with an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options and can help you pursue the compensation you deserve.