What Does an At-Will Employee Mean?

The employment law attorneys at Gehres Law Group, P.C. provide representation to employers and employees during the hiring process and throughout the employment relationship, including voluntary or involuntary terminations and dispute resolution. Our law firm provides critical advice and representation at every stage, helping companies and individuals avoid some of the many costly pitfalls, and affording effective advocacy and strategies should a dispute arise. business attorney

While California provides extensive protections for workers under its labor laws, the employment relationship between employers and employees remains, by default, a relationship which either party can end at any time. This type of employment relationship is called an at will relationship.

At Will Employment in California

California Labor Code section 2922 establishes at will employment as the default standard for employers and employees within California. According to the relevant code section: “An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other.”

When an employee is “at will,” an employer may terminate the employment relationship for any reason or no reason at all. Employers do not have to prove they had a good reason to terminate an at will employee, or even follow a specific procedure for terminating such employees, other than compliance with general labor laws, such as paying employees in a timely manner, including overtime, and ensuring that any unused vacation time is included in an employee’s final paycheck, and providing notice of certain employee rights upon termination.

There are, however, myriad excepts to at will employment, including:

  • Employees with written employment contracts that require grounds for termination and/or that establish specific procedures for termination, such as disciplinary actions leading up to firing.
  • Employees hired for a specific period of time, such as a term of years.

  • Employees covered by collective bargaining agreements requiring just cause for termination. Many union members are covered by agreements which require due process and proof of just cause before an employee can be terminated.
  • Public sector employees protected by civil service laws or negotiated agreements.
  • Employees whose employers have taken certain actions which overcome the presumption that employment is at will. Examples include assurances by managers of long-term employment or the establishment of a rigid disciplinary process which establishes a protocol that employees cannot be terminated until certain disciplinary actions have been taken.
  • The implied duty of good faith and fair dealing.
    A finding that an implied contract has been formed.
    Misrepresentations made by employers during the hiring process.
    Federal, state, and local laws prohibiting discrimination and retaliation.

This list is not exhaustive but highlights the fact that even an at will employee enjoys many rights under California law, which prevent employers from taking certain actions against them, including terminating their employment in certain circumstances. Employers can generally protect themselves against a decision that their communications to employees, whether written or verbal, have given rise to a relationship that is not at will. For starters, employers should typically include language in their employment applications, offer letters, and employee manuals that the employment is at will. Other basic steps include having employees execute an at-will acknowledgement when they begin work, and training management staff to avoid communicating promises to employees which could lead to a conclusion that the employee had a legally enforceable expectation of job security.

Getting Help from an Employment Attorney

Most importantly, you need counselors and advocates who are knowledgeable and can help you navigate the complex legal world of employment law in California. The award-winning employment law attorneys at Gehres Law Group, P.C. offer skilled advice and representation in all aspects of the employment relationship, from best practices in hiring to wrongful termination and class action suits. Our firm also offers risk mitigation advice to employers wishing to avoid litigation, and provides representation to employees being asked to sign employment contracts affecting their at-will status.

To find out more about how a business attorney at our firm can help you to safeguard your rights by understanding your relationship with employers or employees, give us a call at 858-964-2314 or contact us online to today.

By | 2017-09-11T05:32:40-08:00 September 11th, 2017|Labor & Employment Law|Comments Off on What Does an At-Will Employee Mean?