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Azadian Law Group
March 21, 2022

Most employment in California functions under the terms of at-will employment law. The at-will employment law aims to ensure employees have the right to leave a job they no longer want without repercussions while providing employers the control to exercise hiring and firing decisions at their discretion.

The core of the at-will employment law is the understanding that an employment relationship exists “at the will” of both parties involved. Therefore, both parties have the right to terminate the employment relationship “at will.” While many people interpret this to mean an employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason whenever they like, this is not necessarily true.

The at-will employment law allows an employer or an employee to end a working relationship at any time, with or without citing a specific reason, and with or without prior notice. While it’s generally considered good form to provide an employer with two weeks’ notice before leaving your job, this is not a legal requirement, and an employee has the right to quit their job whenever they want. However, this also empowers employers with the legal right to fire employees whenever they want, but they may not fire employees for illegal reasons.

At-will employment in California

Is Every Employment Arrangement “At Will” in California?

Most employment in California falls within the purview of at-will employment laws, but these laws do not apply to every working relationship in California. For example, some employees who are exempt from at-will employment laws include:

  • Employees with contracts. When an employer offers an employee a work contract, the contract will typically stipulate policies and expectations regarding ending the working relationship. The contract should outline the acceptable grounds either party may cite for ending the working relationship, notice requirements, and expectations regarding performance. If an employee violates the terms of their work contract, this can be sufficient grounds for the employer to fire them. In addition, if an employer violates their work contract with an employee, the employee will likely have grounds for a breach of contract lawsuit against the employer.
  • Independent contractors. Independent contractors are not the same as employees and generally develop their work contracts. When they enter into a contract with an employer, both parties are expected to abide by the contract terms. Therefore, similar to a contractually bound employee, an independent contractor may have grounds for a breach of contract claim if an employer terminates a working relationship with an independent contractor in violation of the terms of their contract.
  • Employees with implied good faith agreements and covenants. Some work relationships are developed with covenants of good faith and fair dealing, often called implied contracts. While these relationships typically do not involve formal written contracts, they still carry legal weight under California law. Employers and employees with good faith agreements typically reach mutually understood terms regarding their work relationship and must abide by these terms.


At-will employment laws are often misunderstood, and some employers attempt to use at-will employment laws as a shield to disguise discriminatory firing decisions. When an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason, this is wrongful termination, and the affected employee has the right to pursue legal recourse against the employer.

What Should I Do If I am Wrongfully Terminated?

It’s unfortunately common for wrongfully terminated employees to believe they have no legal recourse against the employers who fired them. If you suspect your employer had any illegal motivation for firing you, it’s vital to discuss these concerns with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. You may not immediately recognize the signs of wrongful termination, but an experienced attorney will, and they can help you determine the best way to proceed after a wrongful termination in California.

Typically, the first step toward resolving a wrongful termination case is to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will review and investigate your claim to determine whether the firing was lawful. If it were not, the EEOC would issue a Notice of Right to Sue to the affected employee, allowing them to proceed with a civil suit against the employer who illegally fired them.

FAQs

Q: Are All Employees At-Will in California?

A: Most, but not all, employees in California are at will. If you signed a contract with your employer when you started working for them, or if you believe you and the employer had a covenant of implied good faith and fair dealing, California’s at-will employment law may not apply to you. If you are unsure about whether at-will employment law applies to your situation, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible.

Q: Do I Need to Provide Notice Before Quitting My Job?

A: If you plan to leave your job and want to maintain a positive relationship with your employer, it’s generally a good idea to provide at least two weeks of notice before you quit. This provides the employer with time to arrange a replacement for your position. However, two weeks’ notice is not a legal requirement, and you are legally allowed to quit your job whenever you deem it appropriate or necessary to do so.

Q: Does My Employer Need to Provide Notice Before Firing Me?

A: Under at-will employment laws, employers can fire employees without prior notice. They cannot, however, fire employees for illegal reasons. Therefore, if you are unsure whether your employer’s stated reason for firing you was legitimate or if you suspect you have been wrongfully terminated, you should speak with an employment attorney as soon as possible.

Q: Can I Be Compensated for a Wrongful Termination?

A: If you are wrongfully terminated in California, you have the right to seek compensation for lost income and lost benefits. If your employer was discriminatory or otherwise violated your rights protected by the EEOC, you may have grounds to seek compensation for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and your employer could be held responsible for your legal fees as well.

The Azadian Law Group, PC, has years of experience handling wrongful termination claims in California. We understand the challenges many people face related to at-will employment laws and can provide the legal counsel you need to hold an employer accountable for wrongful termination. If you think you were wrongfully terminated in California, contact us today to schedule a consultation with our team.

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TYPES OF EMPLOYMENT
CASES WE HANDLE

The following presents an overview of the broad range of employment law cases that our attorneys are experienced at overseeing and favorably resolving.

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