California’s Labor Codes do a lot to protect employees but there are some laws that benefit employers as well. For instance, unless a company and an employee agree otherwise, their relationship is presumed to be “at-will.” As defined, this means there is no promise or obligation of continuing employment. Either the employer or employee may terminate the working relationship at any time, for any legitimate reason or no reason at all, and with or without advance reason.
Thus, employers can potentially strengthen their protections against lawsuits for so-called “wrongful termination” by consistently defining the employment relationship as “at-will” in written agreements, company policies and verbal communications with employees. This includes everything from job announcements and interviews to employee handbooks, training seminars and employee reviews. Knowledgeable employers also strength employee’s “at will” status by avoiding references in written agreements and policies that promise or infer indicate job security or permanence.
There are of course “illegitimate” discriminatory reasons for which an employee may not be disciplined, terminated or denied benefits. In these instances, “at will” employment status is no justification. For instance, a company may not terminate an employee due to his or her race, gender or any other classification protected by law.
The ins and outs of at-will employment policies can sometimes be subtle. An experienced labor law attorney should be able to help.