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What is employment-at-will?

by | Sep 9, 2020 | Employment Law

Most workers in California are considered at-will employees. This means that either an employer or an employee can terminate employment for any reason, with or without notice. It’s important for at-will employees to know that they are entitled to pay for the work they have completed up until the time their employment ends, regardless of the reason for the relationship coming to end. But are you really an at-will employee? Or do you have more protection than you may think?

The exemptions to California’s at-will employment presumption

There are a number of employment relationships that can exempt you from being considered an at-will employee. Let’s briefly look at some of them.

  1. Public employees: Civil service rules and many agency policies protect some, but not all, public employees. Generally speaking, this means that, after a successful probationary period at the beginning of their employment, workers in this field can face adverse employment actions, including termination, only for good or just cause and after being provided with notice.
  2. Employment based on contract: An employment contract can specify the terms of employment, including reasons why the employment relationship can be terminated. By law, the parties must adhere to these terms lest they subject themselves to legal action. These contracts tend to specify that the agreement can be terminated for good cause.
  3. Employment of union members: This is employment that is similar to that which is based on an employment contract, except your contract is bargained for on your behalf by the union. Typically, though, these collective bargaining agreements specify that a union member can only be terminated from his or her job for good cause or just cause.

In other words, those who are exempt from at-will employment standards have greater protections.

What this means for you

This means that you need to understand the parameters of your employment to best determine your course of action. Understanding your classification and what, exactly, constitutes “good cause” or “just cause” can be challenging, which is why it’s often beneficial to consult with a legal professional, even if you just want to see if you have a claim or not. The attorneys at our firm are happy to hear workers’ stories to let them know if they have justification for taking legal action.