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Understanding California’s at-will employment doctrine

On Behalf of | May 20, 2024 | Employer Defense

At-will employment means that either the employer or the employee can end the relationship without cause or notice. This principle forms the foundation of most work arrangements in California. Contracts stating otherwise are a notable exception.

Understanding at-will job principles in California helps companies navigate the state’s legal landscape. Knowledge of employment laws can also foster a better work environment.

Termination policies

Employers should have clear policies outlining the circumstances for firing an employee. While at-will work policies allow for termination without cause, the decisions must not be made for the wrong reasons. For instance, firing someone for retaliation or discrimination could lead to a lawsuit.

Exceptions to at-will employment

Employers should know when at-will employment may not apply. Some examples include having an implied contract or a collective bargaining agreement. California public policy considerations may also be an exception to this job contract. A verbal or written agreement can override the at-will understanding and can create a relationship that can be terminated for a just cause.

Documentation and communication

Employers should document employment decisions, including performance evaluations, disciplinary actions and termination notices. This documentation can help defend against legal action from disgruntled former employees. Clear communication about the nature of work agreements can help prevent misunderstandings and disputes.

Compliance with laws

Employers must follow relevant employment laws and regulations even in an at-will relationship. These include wage and hourly requirements laws, antidiscrimination protections and workplace safety standards.

The nuances of California’s at-will work doctrine help employers create healthy workplace dynamics while following legal standards. Understanding these principles can help both employers and employees thrive.