At-will employment explained

On behalf of Sullivan Law Group APC posted in wrongful termination on Friday, July 27, 2018.

A common assumption amongst many working professionals in San Diego is that firings are rare, so much so that it is believed that one almost has to put a good deal of effort into getting his or her employer to fire him. In reality, however, firings, dismissals and layoffs happen all the time. In fact, according to information shared by the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.6 million people lost their jobs in May of 2018 alone. The ease at which employees can be discharged may be sue in large part to the concept of at-will employment. 

Many may have heard of this term, yet not have a strong understanding of what it actually means. “At-will employment” basically means that an employer or employee may terminate an business relationship at any time without necessarily needing to have cause. According to Section 2922 of the California Labor Code, the state does indeed subscribe to this doctrine, which allows an employer to fire an employee without needing to give him or her a reason. 

This may seem to empower employees to make dismissals whenever and however they choose. Yet there are exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. These include: 

  • Express agreement: An employee with a written contractual agreement for employment cannot be terminated for reasons outside of that agreement 
  • Statutory exceptions: An employee cannot be fired based upon factors for which he or she is protected by statute
  • Public policy: An employee cannot be fired for refusing to act against public policy 

A fourth exception known as the “implied-in-fact exception” also exists. This means that the totality of one’s working circumstances (e.g., company policies, discussions with his or her superiors) lead him or her to believe that he or she did indeed have an implied employment contract.