Wrongfully Firing of an At Will Employee
California is an “at-will” employment state and follows the The Doctrine of Employment At-Will. It is a concept in common law that says a contract for employment with an indefinite or unspecified timeframe can be terminated by either the employee or the employer for any reason or no reason, and at any time. This means that an employer can fire and employee for any or no reason at all. Unless you have an employment contract that specifically states that you will be employed for a certain length of time, or that you may only be fired for good cause, you are considered an “at will” employee.
The “at will” doctrine is firmly entrenched in American employment practice, but the United States is the only major industrialized country that still uses it. Canada and most major European countries have laws requiring employers to fire employees only for good cause.
Job security is a big issue for the majority of the population, because most of us work for others. Furthermore, an employee who is fired generally loses not only the job and its paycheck, but also insurance and possibly a pension and other important benefits. The loss of a job can throw a family into poverty and despair. Today, workers are more likely to contest a firing that was not based on faulty job performance or was unfair in any way, because the stakes are higher than ever, and wrongful termination law suits are becoming more common.
Exceptions to Employment at Will
In California, juries have been sympathetic to plaintiffs in wrongful termination cases, and the state now recognizes three exceptions to the employment at will rule:
- Breach of contract by the employer, including verbal or implied contract
- Breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing
- Violation of California public policy
Are You or Aren’t You “At Will”?
If you don’t have a written employment agreement stating that your employment is for a specified period of time, or that it is company policy to fire only for “good cause,” listing specific reasons, then the presumption is that you are “at will.” Some companies ask you to sign a document agreeing that the company can terminate you at any time without cause. If you’ve signed such a document, the only way for you to prove wrongful termination will be to show that your firing was either discriminatory, based on your membership in certain protected classes, or that you were fired for exercising a legal right, such as the right to family leave or worker’s compensation, for example.
On the other hand, if you have signed an employment contract that promises job security, you are not employed at will, and you can file a claim against your employer if you’re terminated without cause before the specified period ends.
San Diego Employment Attorneys
Clearly, these are not open and shut cases, and in order to succeed in your case against your former employer, you will need to have a knowledgeable, skilled, and committed lawyer to help you develop your case and show that your firing was for an illegal reason or falls under one of the three exceptions to the “at will” rule in California.
When you need expert representation to prove wrongful termination and win compensation for being unjustly terminated, the employment attorneys at Harrison & Bodell have the knowledge, experience, and passion for protecting the rights of California’s workers that make us an ideal choice to represent you. We have a track record of success and have been selected by Super Lawyers as among San Diego’s best—an honor afforded to only five percent of the lawyers practicing in the area.
Don’t wait, because time restrictions apply. Call today.