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Understanding What an At-Will Employment State Means for California

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What is At-Will Employment?

Employment law in California is based on the doctrine of at-will employment. This means that employers in the state are generally allowed to terminate employees without giving notice or cause. An employer can end an employee’s work relationship for any reason as long as it does not violate a law or contract. While this may make employees feel vulnerable, certain protections provide employees with some degree of job security. Our experienced attorneys can help you fight back when these protections are violated.

At-will employment law in California can be challenging to understand and navigate alone. An experienced attorney can provide sound legal advice and protect the rights of employees to ensure they receive fair treatment in the workplace. If an employer has violated an employee’s rights or violated a contract or law, a lawyer can help the employee file a legal complaint. Contact Khosroabadi & Hill by calling (858) 434-1020 today.

What Rights Do Employees Have Under At-Will Employment?

Just because employers have the right to terminate employees does not mean that employees don’t have any rights when it comes to their jobs. At-will employment also gives employees certain protections from unfair treatment, such as discrimination and wrongful termination.

In many cases, employers will provide a reason for termination, as firing someone for “no reason” may be interpreted as discrimination or wrongful termination.


In California, employers are prohibited from discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, and other protected characteristics. Employers cannot terminate employees for any reason related to these factors, even in an at-will state.

Wrongful Termination

Under at-will employment, employers are also prohibited from terminating an employee in retaliation for engaging in certain activities. For example, if an employee reports unlawful behavior or files a lawsuit against their employer, they cannot be fired as retribution for their actions. While employers may attempt to disguise a wrongful termination, an employment lawyer can assist you in gathering evidence to prove your case.

Is At-Will Employment Absolute?

Although California is an at-will employment state, this doctrine does not give employers absolute freedom when it comes to terminating employees. Employers must still abide by various federal and state laws and any contractual agreements between the employer and employee.

If you feel that your rights have been violated as an employee, the first step is to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This California State Agency enforces rules for employers to avoid discrimination and wrongful termination. In your claim with the DFEH, you will outline the details of the situation and any evidence you have. Statements from coworkers and records of correspondence can prove that you were terminated wrongfully. If the DFEH believes that your termination was unlawful, it will send a Notice of Right to Sue that allows you to pursue a civil claim against your employer.

If you have questions regarding at-will employment in California or believe that your rights have been violated by an employer, it is important to speak with a qualified attorney. We can provide you with experienced legal advice and assistance in pursuing your case, whether that’s submitting paperwork, gathering evidence, or contacting the DFEH. Contact our firm today to learn more.

How Can Employers Reinforce At-Will Employment?

Because there are exceptions to at-will employment, it is recommended that employers reinforce at-will employment policies. In some circumstances, this can prevent unnecessary lawsuits or questions of judgment.

To reinforce at-will employment policies, employers can do the following:

  • Have employees sign at-will-acknowledgements on their first day of employment
  • Include an at-will employment statement on job applications and within offer letters
  • Include an at-will employment statement in the employee handbook
  • Train executives not to ensure job security or long-term employment during interviews or employee evaluations

The policies above may be able to protect a company from claims of wrongful termination or discrimination. However, even with those policies in place, employees may still be able to bring a lawsuit against an employer. If your company has any of these policies in place but you still feel that you were wrongfully terminated, an employment lawyer can assist you in making a claim.

Should I Contact an Employment Lawyer?

At-will employment may give employers certain rights, but there are protections in place for employees from wrongful termination. If you believe your employer has violated the law it is essential to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. We provide effective legal counsel and representation for various types of employment law issues. Contact Khosroabadi & Hill today at (858) 434-1020 to learn more about your rights and get the experienced assistance you need.

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