Does an “At Will Employee” Have Any Legal Rights If Fired?

Many employees believe they have no legal rights because they signed an employee application or signed an acknowledgement in an employee handbook indicating themselves as “at will” employees.

This is an incorrect notion.  “At will” means an employer may discharge an employee at any time or an employee may quit at any time.

However, that does not mean the employer may terminate the employee with impunity.

The California Constitution as well as the Fair Employment and Housing Act protects many classes of employee from discriminatory discharges based on age, race, disability, religion, marital status etc.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Labor Code, and many other State and Federal laws protect an employee from retaliatory terminations.  For example, an employee may report that she is being sexually harassed and then is retaliated against with a discharge for false reasons.  An employee may blow the whistle because the employer is manufacturing goods in violation of the law.  An employee may have been discharged because he complained about not receiving his rest breaks or overtime.  The list goes on and on.

The Labor Code prohibits an employer from making false representations which cause an employee to change residence and quit his/her job in reliance on these representations and then is terminated.

Sometimes, an employee is not really “at will” because the totality of the circumstances imply a promise that the employee may only be terminated for good cause.  Courts look at factors such as the length of employment, employer practices, performance evaluations, oral promises made, etc.

When employers terminate an “at will” employee under suspicious circumstances, it is wise to obtain the advice of an employment attorney to determine if one or more of the multitude of laws protecting employee’s rights has been violated.

Posted: 04/18/11 Joseph Dzida

Categories: CRD Employment