California employees are generally “at will,” which limits rights outside of discrimination or other illegal conduct

In California, employees are generally considered “at will,” which means that the law permits employers to suspend, demote or terminate (fire) them without providing a reason.  As a result, if you believe your employer has simply been unfair to you in the workplace, there is usually no remedy other than finding another job.

There are important exceptions to this general rule, especially where an employer acts in a discriminator manner.  It is illegal for an employer to discriminate in the workplace because of age, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation, among other protected classes.  It is also usually prohibited to fire or discipline an employee for reporting or complaining to officials or governmental agencies about illegal discrimination, what is usually referred to as “whistle-blower” conduct.

To protect our precious system of trial by jury, the law also prohibits firing or otherwise disciplining an employee for missing work due to jury service.  However, your employer may limit the amount of paid time provided where an employee is selected to serve on a jury.

In some cases, if you quit or relocated because you were relying on a job offer, but the offer wasn’t made in good faith, you might have a remedy.  However, this exception requires that you can show that the employer made the offer in bad faith, meaning they knew the job offer wasn’t serious at the time it was made.

Some employees have contracts for fixed employment terms or that state they can only be fired for good cause.  Where an employer violates that agreement, the remedy is a breach of contract action in a civil court.

In some cases, a court will find an implied in fact contract that gives an employee rights beyond those the at will doctrine provides.  In finding an implied in fact contract, the court will look at such factors as length of employment, job performance evaluations, job duties, commendations, assurances of employment for certain terms and promises made in an employee handbook or human resources policy manuals.  There is no fixed standard in the court’s analysis and such factors as whether an employer is acting out of economics or was justified in acting because of poor job performance by the employee will all be taken into consideration.

Often, if you believe you have suffered illegal discrimination in the workplace or some other illegal job action, your best course is to consult an experienced employment attorney who can help you analyze your options.

Filed Under Civil Justice Attorneys, Employment


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