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The Basics of “At Will” Employment in California

We have discussed the ability of a Los Angeles employer to terminate a worker’s ‘at will’ employment, which is not as ‘at will’ as one would imagine. While technically, an ‘at will’ employment arrangement means that an employer may fire a worker at any time and for any reason and/or an employee can leave for any reason at any time, it does not always work out that way. In fact, both California law and California courts have placed significant limitations on an employer’s ability to terminate at-will employees.

If both the California employer and the employee can easily walk away from an employment arrangement without any legal consequences, then why all the wrongful termination lawsuits? As an aside, under California law, “misappropriation ” refers to the acquisition of a trade secret by someone who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means; or the disclosure or use of a trade secret without consent by someone who used improper means to acquire knowledge of the trade secret (an ex-employee sharing with a rival is a perfect example).

It is essential that all decisions to terminate such employees be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons. Again, regardless of the type of employment (at will or not), an employee cannot be fired for reasons that are against public policy or against the law. Examples on both can be found here.

At the end of the day the situation is this: Employees can generally be terminated at any time and for any reason. However, in almost all cases there is an alleged reason – and quite often, an employee does claim that reason violates a law, was in retaliation for filing a legally protectable complaint, or violates a 1426804161_handshake-128contractual right.

To ensure that your decision to terminate an at-will employee does not land you in legal hot water, ensure that it does not violate:
  1.  Public policy;
  2. Constitutional rights;
  3. A collective bargaining agreement;
  4. An individual contract;
  5. Contracts for a specific term; or
  6. Employment policies

This list is not exhaustive. For additional guidance on hiring and/or firing an employee in California, contact the experienced Los Angeles business employment attorneys at Hart, Watters & Carter today.