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Wrongful termination in an at-will employment state

California is one of the few states that has what is known as a “covenant of good faith” exception to the at-will employment arrangement that is the law in every state except Montana. At-will employment means that either party can end the relationship at any time with no notice and for any reason. However, employees are still protected from wrongful termination.

The covenant of good faith exception assumes that there should be fair dealings in every employee-employer relationship and that if a person is terminated, it should be for what is known as a “just cause”. When a court determines whether an employer had just cause to terminate an employee, it looks at how long the employee worked there, communication about the employee’s performance, the company’s policies, any representations about job security and what is fair.

The public policy exemption is the most common one. This addresses whether the termination violates an established state public policy. An example would be terminating an employee as retaliation for filing for workers’ compensation. California also recognizes the implied contract exception. This recognizes that even if there is not a written contract, one may be implied unless it is explicitly denied. An example would be that there are certain procedures an employer must follow before disciplining an employee based on the employee handbook.

People who believe they have been wrongfully terminated might want to talk to an attorney about the situation. A person might face wrongful discharge for a number of reasons including retaliation for reporting discrimination or harassment in the workplace. An employee might also be terminated because of race, sex, religion, gender or for other unlawful reasons. An attorney might assist the employee in filing a lawsuit against the employer seeking back pay and damages.