Although in California employment relationships are presumed to be “at will” there are exceptions. For example there could be an actual or implied employment contract that prevents an employer from terminating an employee except for good cause.
Such an agreement may be shown by the acts and conduct of the parties, interpreted in the light of the subject matter and the surrounding circumstances. Duration of an employee’s employment, commendations and promotions received, the apparent lack of any direct criticism of the employee’s work, the assurances that were given, the employer’s acknowledged policies, promises made to induce an employee to leave another job and other relevant facts are all analyzed to determine whether the totality of the relationship supports a claim that an employee could only be fired for good cause. .
If there is a situation where good cause is required for termination based on alleged employee misconduct “good cause” typically requires “fair and honest reasons, regulated by good faith on the part of the employer, that are not trivial, arbitrary or capricious, unrelated to business needs or goals, or pretextual. It is notable that “good cause” requires a reasoned conclusion, in short, supported by substantial evidence gathered through an adequate investigation that includes notice of the claimed misconduct and a chance for the employee to respond.