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What Does California At-Will Employment Mean?

At-Will Employment in California

In California, the relationship between an employee and employer is known as “at-will” employment. It means that in an employee’s permanent appointment, there can be a California labor law probationary period that an employee enters under the law. The probationary period suggests that an employer may terminate an employment relationship at any time during the employee’s probationary period, for any reason.

The employee may not have done anything wrong or have been cited for poor performance to bring about the permanent separation. The company can fire anyone who is employed, so long as the reason isn’t illegal, such as discrimination onto a protected class based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, etc.

The Benefits of Probationary Period Employment

An employee has rights. Employees benefit from working under a probationary period because they can quit their job without breaking or violating a contract or agreement. This helps if they needs to find a new job quickly.

On the other hand, “at-will” employment provides employers with a broad range of discretion. Businesses can fire or terminate someone if there’s any type of issue or the company needs to adapt quickly. The company is free to search for new employees to continue its operations. There can also be an extended period of probation, depending on the workplace.

Changing At-Will Employment Status in California

“At-will” employment is considered the default status of employees. However, this can be contractually changed between an employer and employee. A formal employment contract can be drafted to document an employee’s work status has been changed, which can help prevent future lawsuits. Exceptions to “at-will” employment include when an employee is a member of a labor union and there are specific termination provisions under a collective bargaining agreement.

Reasonable Accommodation Request

According to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employee has the the right to ask to be provided the reasonable accommodation necessary to complete their work – even during a probationary period. California workers do not have to wait until their probation has concluded to request the reasonable accommodation they need. It is an employer’s responsibility to address the needs of their workers.

Can At-Will Employment Be Overridden?

In addition to union agreements, other exceptions to at-will employment include public-sector employees protected by state civil service law. This applies if there is a “memorandum of understanding” between an agency and union that covers discipline and termination procedures.

At-will employment is presumed unless an employer or employee says or acts in such a way that overrides it. Such an implied contract, not a written agreement, isn’t legally binding, but can be admissible in court when, for example, an employer suggested a job would last a given amount of time or an employee wouldn’t be fired for no reason.

At-Will Employment vs. Wrongful Termination

An at will employee can still bring a legal claim against an employer if they feel they’ve been wrongfully terminated. In California, “at-will” employees are protected under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which outlines protected classes and prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation.

Employees who use sick days, serve on a jury, or take protective leaves of absence, or care for close family members are also protected. Retaliation for these and using other employee rights is considered negligent and can override an employee’s at-will employment status.

What to Do If You Feel You’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated

The first step is to gather documentation supporting the wrongful termination. Opening a dispute with the human resources department within the company is also a good idea. If that isn’t successful, filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is an option. These agencies can file a claim and notify employers that they are investigating the matter.

However, the best option is to consult with an experienced employment lawyer. There may also be legal options if the EEOC or DFEH aren’t helpful. Filing a civil lawsuit against an employer is a complex process. At Lawyers for Justice, PC the powerful employment attorneys understand every aspect of probationary period employment law and can help fight for workers’ rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Attorney advertisement by Edwin Aiwazian of Lawyers For Justice, PC, headquartered at 410 Arden Avenue, Glendale, CA 91203