Anyone who has ever been “terminated,” “fired,” “laid off,” or simply “let go” from their job understands the shock and embarrassment that follows. No one wants to be fired, and losing your job with no advance notice can be especially upsetting. One of the questions that immediately gets raised is whether your employer can terminate you without advance notice. The answer to that question is, frustratingly, both simple and complex. If you have been terminated and want to discuss your options, you speak with a knowledgeable employment law attorney.
California is an At-Will Employment State
Like many other states, California is what is referred to as an “at-will” employment state. In an “at-will” employment state, an employee can be terminated at any time, with or without cause. Similarly, employees have the right to quit at any time and for any reason. This is in contrast to a “for-cause” employment arrangement, where employers could terminate employees only for a justifiable reason.
While both at-will and for-cause have their advantages and disadvantages, the fact that all 50 states have been at-will employment states is somewhat telling. Ultimately, at-will employment allows businesses greater flexibility in meeting their staffing needs. The downside for employees is that generally speaking, you can be terminated without any advance notice.
Do You Have an Employment Contract?
While it is generally true that at-will employees can be terminated without notice, there are situations where this can be called into question. One of these situations is when an employee signs an employment contract that may limit the employer’s ability to terminate the employee without notice or cause.
If you signed an employment contract, the contract will lay out various rights and obligations for both you and your employer. For example, it may describe your job duties that must be performed in exchange for a specified salary or hourly wage. The contract may also require you to comply with any policies or procedures that your employer may have or may implement in the future. More than likely, the contract may also include a clause that reiterates that you are an at-will employee that can be terminated at any time without cause or notice.
However, your contract could complicate the situation for the following reasons:
- The contract does not include an at-will clause, thereby suggesting that the employee could not be terminated unless they breach the employment contract.
- The contract may include provisions that detail reasons for termination and require that the employee be given notice, thereby limiting the employer’s “at-will” rights.
- The contract may incorporate disciplinary policies that require advance notice to be given prior to termination.
To be clear, it is possible that your employer may be able to terminate you without notice even if you have an employment contract. But if that contract contradicts your employer’s right to terminate you without notice, then you may have a claim. An experienced employment law attorney can review your contract and help you understand your rights.
Was There an Implied Contract?
California courts have recognized that a contract can exist between employers and an employee even if it was never memorialized in writing. The courts have found an employment contract to exist where it was implied that:
- The job would last for a certain period of time; or
- That the employee would not be fired without good cause.
In determining whether an implied contract exists, the courts will try to identify what the parties actually intended the employment relationship to be. To do this, the court may examine several factors:
- The employer’s practices and policies concerning termination
- The length of time that the employee worked for the employer
- Oral statements made by the employer or actions that would suggest the employee would not be fired without cause
- Industry practices
For example, a court may find that there is an implied contract that prohibits termination without notice if the business has a policy that employees must be put on probation for 30 days prior to termination. A court might reach the same conclusion if an employee was repeatedly told at quarterly reviews that they would not be terminated unless they did something to warrant termination.
All of that said, it is important to note that the implied contract does not necessarily mean that an employee cannot be fired without notice if the employer had good cause. Again, the question of whether you were entitled to notice is complicated. An employment lawyer can review your situation and determine whether you were wrongfully terminated.
Were You Terminated in Violation of Public Policy?
California also recognizes a public policy exception to at-will employment. This means that your employer may not terminate you if it would violate an important public policy. For example, you may have a claim for wrongful termination if your employer fired you for one of the following reasons:
- You refused to engage in illegal or unethical conduct
- You were performing a legal obligation
- You were exercising a legal right or privilege such as voting
- You had reported an alleged violation of law to a supervisor, governmental agency, or law enforcement
There are numerous conditions that must be met for this exception to apply. For example, the law or right must be fundamental or substantial and you must be able to show a clear connection between your termination and the exercise of your rights.
Have You Been Terminated? Contact Attorneys for Employees Today
At Attorneys for Employees, we know how difficult it can be to lose your job. We’re here to help you get closure and move into the future. You may be entitled to compensation for your lost wages and other damages. To discuss your case and how we can help, call us today at 310-601-1330 or complete our online contact form to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys.