At-Will Employment and Exceptions in California

You may be wondering, “What is employment at will in California?” Employment at-will means that an employer can terminate your job at any time, without giving you a warning, a reason or an explanation. On the other hand, employment at-will also means that as an employee, you are free to quit your job without notice or reason. If your job is terminated, or if you left voluntarily, then you may be denied any claim for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. If you are wondering, “Is California an at will state?” the answer is yes. However, there are three at-will employment exceptions in California,which prevent employers from terminating employment without good reason. Continue reading this page to review the at will employment exceptions in California.

Exceptions to At Will Employment in California

There are three exceptions to at will employment in the state of California. The at will employment exceptions in California are in place to protect a person’s livelihood from wrongful or unfair termination of employment. The three exceptions to at will employment in California are:

  • The implied contract exception: This exception to at-will employment is applied when a verbal or implied contract is made between and employer and employee, although no written basis for such a contract exists. If an employer makes verbal indications to employees related to job security and procedures concerning adverse employment actions, then these indications are considered to be implied contracts. This exception is recognized in the state of California.

Common examples of this type of exception to at will employment are the indications and statements made in employee handbooks. In certain cases, this information can be defined as an implied contract, and as such, constitute exceptions to at will employment, which means the employees have different rights when it comes to termination. If you are not sure if there is an implied contract exception to at will employment in your job, look at the company’s general practices and personnel policies, consider how long you have worked for the company, and think about any comments or communications between your employer and you which may have implied that you can count on long-term job security.

  • A covenant of good faith and fair dealing exception: The covenant of good faith and fair dealing exception to at will employment is recognized by only 11 states, California being one of them. This exception to at will employment has a rather broad interpretation, which is based on principles of good faith and just cause. Examples of how this exception to at will employment may impact employment termination include thelongevity of the employee’s service (which would require a justifiable reason for termination). This exemption can also sometimes include bad faith terminations, such as an employer firing an older employee to avoid paying any retirement benefits.
  • Public policy exception: Under this CA exception to at will employment, an employer wrongfully terminates a worker when the termination violates a California public policy. A wrongful termination occurs under the public policy exception to at will employment when an employee is fired for refusing to break the law, fulfilling a legal obligation, exercising a legal right or reporting a violation of the law.

In addition to the three common law exceptions to at ill employment in California outlined above, there are also statutory exceptions to CA at-will employment. These exceptions include discrimination, protections for employee’s activities outside of work, retaliation, whistle-blowing, defamation and harassment. To learn more about exceptions to at will employment in California, download our comprehensive guide.

How Employers Should Approach At-Will Employment

Employers who wish to avoid exceptions to at will CA employment, and who want to utilize employment at-will should include an employment at-will statement in the company application for employment and in any job offer letters, so that prospective employees can clearly see that they will be employed at-will. Employers should also have new hires sign employment at-will acknowledgments when their jobs commence. An employment at-will statement may also be included in the employee handbook. Download our free guide to review more information about at-will employment in California.


What Kind of Employment Development Services Are Available in California?

If you are currently unemployed and need help finding a job, the state of California offers unemployment benefits to eligible applicants, in order to help them get by while pursuing work. In addition to financial assistance, the Employment Development Division of California also offers training benefits, which allow unemployed individuals to learn new skills and get a higher education so that they can earn a better living. Find out more about these employment services by downloading our guide.


What Education Assistance Is Available in California?

Just as unemployed individuals can benefit from services offered by the state, so too can college students. California students can qualify for financial aid from the government, such as loans and grants, which can help them cover the costs of higher education. Find out how you can get financial assistance for your schooling by downloading our guide.