California, like most other states, follows what is known as the at will doctrine. This means that employment agreements can be terminated by either workers or or their employers at any time and for any reason. However, fired workers in at will states may have legal remedies available to them if they were wrongfully terminated. Firing a worker is wrongful in states like California if the decision to terminate violates the terms of an employment contract, is not in the public interest or was based on discrimination.
Discrimination and public policy
Discrimination is the workplace is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. When a worker is fired because of their age, race, national origin, religion or gender, their termination is wrongful because it violated one of these laws. When this happens, fired workers can file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Termination is also considered wrongful if it does not serve the public interest. Examples of this kind of wrongful termination include firing a worker because they reported wrongdoing or refused to perform an illegal act.
Workers who sign employment contracts may be able to file wrongful termination lawsuits if they are fired. However, they will be required to show that their firing violated the terms of the agreement. Termination is usually an important consideration when employment contracts are drafted, which is why these agreements usually describe the type of conduct that can lead to a worker being fired.
At will laws benefit employers and workers
At will employment laws allow employers to fire workers whenever they want, and they also allow workers to quit their jobs without worrying about legal repercussions. If you have been fired, you will have few legal options unless your termination was motivated by discrimination, punished you for doing something in the public interest or violated the provisions of an employment contract you signed.