Traditionally at-will employees do not have a right to contest their termination.
That is because by definition, both employees and employers can terminate their employment relationship anytime upon their will.
However, there are instances where at-will employees can file a wrongful termination suit.
A Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer can explain the exemptions further, but to give you an idea here is a short summary of each.
An at-will employee can file a wrongful termination suit through these three exemptions:
1. Breach of contract
It would be easy for an at-will employee to file a wrongful termination suit if he was actually given an express written contract but that is not usually the case.
There are contracts that are implied and are much more difficult to prove.
One of the most common ways to prove this is through the employee handbook.
If it says that an employee cannot be terminated without just cause then it can be treated as an agreement between the employer and the employee that there has to be a legitimate reason for termination.
2. Violation of public policy
If the termination of the employee violates an existing public policy like a federal or state law then it can be treated as a wrongful termination.
Some of the situations where this can apply include:
• Employee was fired for refusing to perform act that can be considered as crime such as stealing and fraud.
• Employee was fired for turning whistleblower abut questionable practices within the company
• Employee was fired for participating in an investigation against the company
• Employee was fired for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint against the company
• Employee was fired for participating in a law protected activity
3. Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealings
This is the most commonly used exemption in at-will employee wrongful termination case because even with the absence of an implied contract or a violation of public policy, it applies the covenant of good faith and fair dealings on the employer-employee relationship.
This requires employers to act in good faith and to deal fairly with the employee when it comes to his tenure with the company.
The interpretation can vary depending on the court, but generally it means that termination should be subject to just cause or that the law prohibits terminations made in bad faith.