Can an At-Will Employee be Fired for any Reason?

Generally, yes. An employer in California may terminate the employment relationship with an employee for any lawful reason, an arbitrary reason, or no reason at all. But what if the firing is based on discrimination, retaliation, or harassment? In this post, I will discuss what rights and options are available to an employee who is terminated wrongfully and without notice.

An Employee Cannot be Fired for an Illegal Reason

When an employee begins working for an employer, the parties do not always enter into a written contract. Whether or not there is a written agreement, the relationship between an employer and employee in California is presumed to be at-will. “At will” means the employee can quit for any reason and the employer can fire the employee for any reason. But there are some limitations.

The parties may enter into an employment contract that specifies the length of time an employee would remain employed with the company or states that the employee can only be terminated for “good cause.” Employment agreements with a guaranteed length of employment or requiring “good cause” for termination are used to attract employees to the job and are enforceable provisions. Under these circumstances, an employer who fires the employee without good cause can be liable for breach of the employment contract, entitling the employee to money damages from the employer.

It is unlawful for an employer to fire an at-will employee as retaliation or discrimination against the employee. A firing would be considered retaliation if the employee first complained about unpaid wages, health and safety violations, discrimination on the basis sex, gender, or pregnancy, or some other unlawful conduct by the company. It is also unlawful to fire, demote, or write-up an employee if it falls in a pattern of harassment against the employee. Quid pro harassment includes a supervisor or manager forcing an employee to accept sexual advances to get a promotion or raise or to avoid being fired. Under these circumstances, an employer who fires the at-will employee with or without good cause may still be liable for wrongful termination.

An At-Will Employee can Bring a Lawsuit for Wrongful Termination

Employment lawyer Yashdeep “Jesse” Singh can help a wrongfully terminated employee seek justice. Even an employee who can be terminated for any reason or no reason can bring a lawsuit against an employer who wrongfully terminates the employee because of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. The employee can file a lawsuit in Superior Court of California against the employer who illegally terminated the employee. An employee also has the right to file an administrative complaint with Department of Fair Employment and Housing if the employee was fired as a result of sexual harassment, race discrimination, a disability, or other violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

If an employee prevails at trial or arbitration on a claim for wrongful termination, he or she might be entitled to back wages, future pay, and punitive damages sufficient to punish the employer. A wrongful termination can also lead a former employee to experience serious emotional and mental distress, such as anxiety, stress, and worry about finding new employment. Damages can also be recovered for emotional and mental distress.

If you are an at-will employee, you are protected against being fired for an illegal reason. Contact experienced Orange County discrimination attorney Yashdeep “Jesse” Singh to schedule a free consultation regarding any potential wrongful termination, discrimination, or harassment.

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