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At-will employment does not prevent wrongful termination suits

Being an employer is a stressful job. Whether you own a small business yourself or are in a management position for a larger corporation, you have a lot on your plate when it comes to ensuring that daily operations run smoothly. Your responsibilities include monitoring employees, making sure they carry out their duties and, when necessary, firing workers.

Though California is an at-will employment state, that does not necessarily mean that you can fire a worker for any flippant reason or that you are exempt from facing potential wrongful termination claims from former employees. As a result, it is important to know when dismissing an employee could violate the law.

Potential violations

In some cases, the need to terminate an employee from his or her job arises unexpectedly. However, before simply calling a worker into your office and letting him or her go, you may want to determine whether any of the following stipulations apply:

  • Is there an implied contract? Even if you and the employee did not have a written employment contract, an implied contract stemming from verbal implications of job security or information stating that certain procedures would occur before firing could prevent you from simply dismissing a worker.
  • What does public policy indicate? In most states, public policy indicates that an employer cannot fire a worker for filing a workers' compensation claim or for other retaliatory reasons.
  • Is there a covenant of good faith? In California and some other states, a covenant of good faith exists that means employers must have a just cause for dismissing a worker and will not act out of ill will or bad faith.

If an employee believes that you fired him or her for reasons that violate the above mentioned stipulations, for discriminatory reasons, as retaliation or for another unjust excuse, you could end up facing a wrongful termination lawsuit.

What can you do?

As with any type of legal claim, you and your company have the legal right to defend against allegations of wrongdoing. You may have the ability to present evidence that you did not violate any laws or regulations pertaining to the termination of an at-will employee. Of course, dealing with this type of ordeal can be complicated, so it is wise to consult with knowledgeable employment law attorneys who could help you understand your legal options.

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