What is an “at will” work state?

“At will” employment status stipulates that the employer can legally terminate the worker without just cause or warning. California is an at will work state, meaning that all employers in California have the authority to fire employees for any reason or no reason. In an at will work state, the law presumes you are employed at will unless your employer provides clear indication through an employment contract that it will only fire you for good cause, or if it provides a list of reasons for which an employee can be fired. If you signed a contract that states that your employer will only fire you for good reason, then you are protected by law to rely on that contract. However, if your contract does not state that you have these protections, then the law assumes you are employed at will.

Regardless of being employed at will, state and federal laws do not allow certain reasons for firing workers. An employee cannot fire you for discriminatory reasons, such as race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. They cannot fire you in retaliation if you complain about illegal activity, discrimination, harassment, or health and food violations. Nor can they fire you for exercising your rights to sick or family leave, serve in the military or on a jury or to vote. If you have been fired for one of these reasons, this would be considered “wrongful termination,” meaning that it was unlawful.

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