Can an At-Will Employee Be Wrongfully Terminated?

It is against the law to terminate someone’s employment for an illegal reason. In at-will employment states, however, an employer needs no reason to fire a worker. While it can be more difficult for an at-will employee to win a wrongful termination case than one operating with an employment contract, it is not impossible. It is still unlawful to terminate someone’s employment for a forbidden reason, such as discrimination. Wrongful termination can lead to serious financial hardship for a family. A lawsuit against an employer for wrongful termination could end in compensation for the victim in California.

At-Will Employee Definition

All 50 states follow at-will employment rules, but many enforce certain exceptions. At-will employment means an employer can fire an at-will employee at any time, for any reason, without warning. At the same time, an at-will employee can quit without notice for any reason or no reason at all. In most cases, an at-will employee will not have the ability to file a wrongful termination lawsuit, even if he or she had been with the company for decades and the employer had no valid reason. Like most states, however, California has created some exceptions to the at-will employment rule. These exceptions could expose an employer to a wrongful termination suit for firing a worker in certain circumstances.

Can an Employer Wrongfully Terminate an At-Will Employee?

Yes, it is possible for an employer to wrongfully terminate an at-will employee. While employers in the state can use almost any reason to terminate an employee, California has created a list of reasons that are off-limits for employers, even with the state’s at-will employment laws. Certain reasons to fire someone may constitute illegal actions against that person, such as harassment or retaliation. This could make it against the law for the employer to use said reason to terminate the worker’s employment.

  • In breach of an employment contract. An at-will employer may not terminate an employee if the action goes against the language of an employment contract. If the employer promised employment for a certain amount of time, for example, it must hold up its end of the contract.
  • Through discrimination against the employee. An employer cannot terminate someone’s employment or decide not to hire a person because of biases or discrimination against said person. Discrimination based on gender, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, ethnicity, marital status or another protected class is against the law.
  • Out of retaliation. Even in an at-will state, an employer cannot fire an employee out of retaliation. Employees have the right to come forward with complaints about safety issues or harassment at work without fear of negative consequences. Firing someone out of revenge or retaliation could constitute wrongful termination in California.

Terminating someone’s employment for one of these reasons could be wrongful and illegal in the eyes of the law. Although employers in California can generally fire employees for any reason or no reason at all, these exceptions could lead to a wrongful termination case. An employer may also be guilty of wrongful termination for firing someone for exercising a legal right or refusing to commit a crime.

Do You Have a Wrongful Termination Case?

Just because California is an at-will employment state does not mean you are forever barred from filing a wrongful termination lawsuit. Some reasons for firing someone remain against the law. If the circumstances surrounding your job termination appear to involve discrimination, sexual harassment, biases, a breach of contract, an infringement of civil rights or retaliation, speak to an attorney about a potential lawsuit. A wrongful termination claim could lead to the reinstatement of your job and/or back wages paid for missed paychecks. The guilty employer may also face consequences such as fines, restitution and penalties. Find out if you have a wrongful termination case today by talking to an attorney.