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Please Don't Fire Me!

In California, employees are presumed to be “at will.”  At-will employees may be terminated for any reason, so long as it’s not illegal.  Generally, employees that work under an employment contract can only be terminated for reasons specified in the contract.  In California, the at-will presumption can be overcome by evidence that despite the absence of a specified term of employment, the parties agreed who the employer’s power to terminate would be limited in some way.

Fired red stamp
Fired red stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may be surprised that you can be fired by your boss because she

  1. does not like you
  2. thinks you are too tall or short
  3. thinks you talk too much or too little
  4. is upset you did not say “Good Morning” to her in the right way
  5. is mad you made the coffee too strong and forgot the cream
  6. dislikes your shirt
  7. thinks you are too fat or thin
  8. thinks you are too ugly or good-looking
  9. mistakenly thinks you did something that you did not
  10. is in a bad mood and you happen to be the closest one to her
  11. and on and on.

However, you can be assured that there still are many restrictions on your boss’s power to fire you at will. As the California Supreme Court said in a landmark decision, “”Even where employment is at will, numerous federal and state statutes already impose express limitations on the right of an employer to discharge at will.” [Foley v. Interactive Data Corp., 47 Cal.3d 654, 665, fn. 4.]

Contract. If you and your employer signed a contract regarding your employment, you should examine it carefully.  Be on the look out for a paragraph entitled “Termination.” Such a section should spell out your boss’s right to fire you.  With luck, your contract might say that your boss can only fire you “for cause” (a good reason).

Employee Handbook/Policies. If your employer has employee handbooks, manuals or policies, you should examine such documents very carefully.  Courts have held that these documents are to be treated as contracts between you and your employer.  Look for a section called “Termination” and see what your rights are.

Union Agreements. If you are in a union, they may have entered into a collective bargaining agreement with your employer that lays out the circumstances under which your boss can fire you.  Such an agreement may be binding on your boss.

Illegal Reasons. Your boss cannot fire you (or force you to resign) for any illegal reasons.  Following are some illegal reasons:

  1. in harassment based on or discrimination against your “race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation” [California Fair Employment & Housing Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]
  2. in retaliation for your blowing the whistle on illegal or improper conduct [California Labor Code 1102.5; California Health & Safety Code 1278.5; etc.]
  3. in retaliation for your taking family medical leave [California Family Rights Act; U.S. Family Medical Leave Act]
  4. in retaliation for your applying for workers’ compensation for a work-related injury [California Labor Code 132a]
  5. in retaliation for your union activity or participating in union investigations [National Labor Relations Act]
  6. for participating in an investigation for discrimination or harassment [California Fair Employment & Housing Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]

If you have been fired “at will,” there are several things you can do about it.  You can educate yourself on employment law websites.  Keep in mind that your termination may have been unlawful under some provision of the California Labor Code or federal or state statute that was not discussed above.

If you think any of the above applies to your situation, talk to a qualified employment attorney right away.

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