The Limits of an At-Will Termination

California Labor Code Section 2922 states that “An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other. Employment for a specified term means an employment for a period greater than one month.” Most employees in California are considered “at will” employees, meaning that employment can be terminated, or the employee can quit, at any time without cause. Despite that this concept sounds simple, there are times when an at will termination is improper and state and federal laws that protect employees from improper termination.

Discrimination

The California Labor Code is filled with specific protections against discrimination for employees based on their protected class. These code provisions make it unlawful to engage in discriminatory employment action, including termination, based on sex, gender, race, age, disability, country of origin, victim status, pregnancy, or breastfeeding, among many other categories.

Retaliation

The Labor Code also provides for protections against retaliatory employer actions for protected employee conduct, such as: (1) whistleblowing; (2) cooperating with a government investigation; (3) refusing to violate the law on the employer’s behalf; (4) making a complaint about unpaid wages or some other labor code violation; (5) running for office; (6) exercising constitutional rights when off duty and outside of the workplace; (7) serving on a jury or serving as a witness; (8) taking time off due to sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking; (9) serving as an emergency rescue personnel; (10) using accrued sick leave; (11) requesting accommodations to participate in a substance rehabilitation program; (12) changing one’s legal name; (13) the employee’s immigration status; (14) filing a worker’s compensation claim; or (15) training or actively serving in the military.

Job Protected Leave

In addition, state and federal laws protect employees against job termination when they qualify for certain types of job-protected leave. This includes Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), in which a pregnant woman develops a pregnancy-related health condition or disability that prevents her from doing her job. PDL allows her up to four months of protected leave, during which her employment status cannot change and she continues to receive employer-provided health insurance.

In addition, an employee may be entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). These acts can run concurrently and provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave based on a qualifying serious health issue or for family reasons. If an employee qualifies for leave under the FMLA or CFRA, their employer is legally prohibited from terminating their employment.

A man unpacking a box at his desk

You Need a Lawyer

If you are an at will employee, but believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, call us. While at will terminations are generally permissible, we can help you determine whether your employer violated any of the aforementioned legal job protections. At Moss Bollinger, we stand up to unlawful employment decisions and defend the rights of employees. We work on a contingency basis, so you pay nothing up front. Call Moss Bollinger today at (866) 535-2994 for a free consultation or contact us online.

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