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Can my employer fire me for any reason whatsoever?

An employee in California may wonder about the state's at-will rules, especially if faced with the possibility of being released from a job. At-will employment is defined as an employment relationship that does not have a specified duration. An employer in this scenario may terminate that relationship at any time whether or not there is cause. However, there are exceptions to consider.

Discrimination laws still apply to employers and employees involved in an at-will employment relationship. A situation may be viewed as wrongful termination if an employee is dismissed for involvement in union-related activities, refusing to violate the law, or in connection with discrimination because of race, gender, religious belief, disability, age or other areas protected by law. An employer may endeavor to limit misunderstandings and possible liability for wrongful discharge by including at-will terminology communications in both verbal and written form. Additionally, omitting references to subjects such as job security or longevity may be important for avoiding problems with at-will employment situations.

An at-will employee may want to evaluate issues leading up to a dismissal to be sure that the situation is not based on illegal actions. Written notifications of dismissals may be important in verifying one's concerns. Additionally, it may be important to document information provided by supervisors or other employees. It may be helpful to observe whether recent terminations have been restricted to a certain demographic within the company, such as only women or only older employees.

An individual who believes that their dismissal was based on discrimination may want to discuss such suspicions with an employment lawyer. Providing documentation to support this suspicion may be helpful as the lawyer endeavors to establish whether discriminatory practices have been used. Additionally, the lawyer might recommend an effective way to file a wrongful termination complaint against the employer.

Source: Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development, "At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination", September 21, 2014

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