Are there limitations to at-will employment?

On Behalf of | May 23, 2023 | Employment Law

Most employees throughout California are more than likely classified as at-will employees. But what exactly does this mean and what are its limitations?

Basically, at-will employment means that either party can terminate the employment contract for any reason whatsoever as long as the termination does not violate any laws. It also means that you can end the employment contract without reason.

So when can an at-will termination be deemed illegal?

There is a limit to the kind of reasoning that can justify an at-will termination. At-will termination does not justify wrongful termination. In other words, the law against sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation protects employees from unfair treatment that may include dismissal from their roles. Thus, whether you are an at-will employee or not, the employee cannot dismiss for reasons related to:

  • Discrimination (race, sex, religion, national origin or other protected characteristics)
  • Your political beliefs or affiliations
  • Whistleblowing, reporting harassment or any other unlawful activity
  • Requesting a legally permitted leave such as sick or family leave

So what do you do if you believe your dismissal is illegal?

If you believe you have been wrongly terminated, you deserve justice. Before suing for wrongful termination, however, you need to put your evidence together.

Basically, you can use direct or indirect evidence to prove wrongful termination. Direct evidence like a clear violation of the organization’s policies, an incriminating mail or text message from your superior or a credible witness account. Indirect evidence, on the other hand, connects the termination to a fact. An example of this would be dismissal based on your protected characteristics.


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