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Can My Boss Fire Me at Any Time for Any Reason? What is “at will”? (2017)

can my boss fire me?At-Will”. California is an “at-will” employment state. What does this mean? In most cases, it means that your boss can fire you at any time for almost any reason or no reason at all. She can fire you because she

  1. doesn’t like you
  2. thinks you’re too tall or short
  3. thinks you talk too much or too little
  4. is upset you didn’t say “Good Morning” to her in the right way
  5. is mad you made the coffee too strong and forgot the cream
  6. dislikes your shirt
  7. thinks you’re too fat or thin
  8. thinks you’re too ugly or good-looking
  9. mistakenly thinks you did something that you didn’t
  10. is in a bad mood and you happen to be the closest one to her
  11. and on and on.

 

But take heart. There are a lot of restrictions on your boss’s power to fire you at will. As the California Supreme Court said in a landmark decision, “”Even where employment is at will, numerous federal and state statutes already impose express limitations on the right of an employer to discharge at will.” [Foley v. Interactive Data Corp., 47 Cal.3d 654, 665, fn. 4.]

Contract. If you and your employer signed a contract regarding your employment, you should examine it carefully. Look for a paragraph called “Termination” which should spell out your boss’s right to fire you. With luck, your contract might say that your boss can only fire you “for cause” (a good reason).

Employee Handbook/Policies. If your employer has employee handbooks, manuals or policies, you should examine it carefully. Courts have held that these documents are to be treated as contracts between you and your employer. Look for a section called “Termination” and see what your rights are.

Union Agreements. If you’re in a union, they may have entered into a collective bargaining agreement with your employer that lays out the circumstances under which your boss can fire you. That agreement may be binding on your boss.

Illegal Reasons. Your boss cannot fire you (or force you to resign) for illegal reasons. Following is just a partial list of illegal reasons:

  1. in harassment based on or discrimination against your “race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation” [California Fair Employment & Housing Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]
  2. in retaliation for your blowing the whistle on illegal or improper conduct [California Labor Code 1102.5; California Health & Safety Code 1278.5; etc.]
  3. in retaliation for your taking family medical leave [California Family Rights Act; U.S. Family Medical Leave Act]
  4. in retaliation for your applying for workers’ compensation for a work-related injury [California Labor Code 132a]
  5. in retaliation for your union activity or participating in union investigations [National Labor Relations Act]
  6. for participating in an investigation for discrimination or harassment [California Fair Employment & Housing Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]

If you think any of the above applies to your situation, talk to a lawyer right away.

164 Comments

  1. pat velde on November 5, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    I was fired for being rude to a fellow employee. That employee got mad at me for slapping his truck door as he was barreling down this dusty graveled road on his way to dumping that load. I just wanted to let him know where to dump, since I was in charge of placing the loads after they were dumped. he was dumping in the wrong place. After I slapped the side of the truck, which is our employers truck, he comes to a screeching halt, jumps out of the truck, and proclaims “don’t you ever touch my truck again”. I asked him, “why are you treating me like an asshole”. he then shoved me down under the tractor and kicked me twice. I sustained bruises and scrapes on my right leg and bit my tongue. yet I got fired, because my employer says his drivers are a more important asset. I filed a police report a day after it happened, but I haven’t heard back. It has only been 2 days since I filed. What else can I do?

    • Eugene Lee on November 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      I recommend you contact a workers compensation attorney to discuss filing a possible claim.

  2. Heather on October 22, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    I was just terminated from my employer of a decade after reporting my boss for bullying. I spoke with my HR representative and told her that he’s applying rules only to me (I was the only woman in our department) that nobody else in the company had to follow. He also refused to work with me in making reasonable accommodations to ensure I was able to fulfill my obligations. Two months to the day, I was fired. This man caused me so much grief and misery, yet everything I’m reading says he’s in the right. I feel so hopeless.

    • Eugene Lee on October 22, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      I’m not sure I agree that he’s in the right. If you were being singled out for being a woman, that is textbook sex discrimination. The problem with these cases is lack of evidence (other than your own oral testimony). Did you make any of the complaints in writing, by chance? Do you have witnesses to your complaints (or the singling out for being female)?

      • Heather on October 22, 2017 at 10:52 pm

        Unfortunately, I don’t really have much proof other than things he had said to me/others about me (he once told a male colleague that I was “extremely sensitive” about doing my job a certain way. He also once told me I had to be “a ray of sunshine” in the office. He did say this in front of two male coworkers and I responded that it was sexist, but I doubt they’d be willing to come forward as one was fired for sexual harassment himself, and the other would likely get fired for not sticking up for the manager). The complaint I made to HR was also oral in her office, and I don’t believe she documented it (the catalyst to this was an email he sent with the HR rep and another higher up that I was intimidated by both cc’ed, which was a common tactic my boss used to intimidate me out of replying. I did reply to my HR rep and tell her I wanted to speak with her regarding the situation, but that’s the only official “documentation” I have, and I know that’s not much). I did document for my own records that I reported him and she dismissed me complete with the date, but that’s about all I have, sadly. I am going to request my personnel records and keep my fingers crossed she documented the complaint, but I don’t believe she did.

        There is a conversation from Skype where he yelled at me for contradicting him “in public and in private” and telling me to “keep (my) mouth shut unless what (I) had to say was useful” after I disagreed with him on a minor issue. Again, unfortunately, I doubt my job would be willing to turn that conversation over in an effort to protect him, but I was literally shaking in my chair for a week after that happened.

        I wish I had done more. I am kicking myself so hard right now. I didn’t even have a job description and when I told him I wanted one in writing, his response was to smirk and say “I bet you do.” He was very selective on what things he would do in writing as I feel he was setting me up for firing. I don’t even want to go after the company; I just want an acknowledgement of what he did and an apology, but that won’t happen, either.

        Sorry this is so long, but thank you for your time.

        • Heather on October 22, 2017 at 11:07 pm

          There were a number of other small things that he would do (not communicate out to stakeholders that I needed to be involved in specific things, leave me out of meetings/emails, etc). He even would force me to walk in front of him while he held the door open (the “ladies first” thing) despite my telling him it made me extremely uncomfortable. He would get visibly/verbally agitated when I would ask him to go instead. I explained that I don’t like it when anybody does it and he told me that he’s not “everybody else” and I needed to comply.

          I’m glad I’m out of the situation as I was hoping to quit at the end of the year, anyway, but it disappoints me so much that he’s likely going to get away with it. I guess the “fortunate” part is that he likely won’t hire any other women to work for him so it won’t happen again.

    • Eugene Lee on November 2, 2017 at 9:56 pm

      Heather, I think you should consider filing a discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Click on this link if you want to learn about that: https://calaborlaw.com/filing-a-discrimination-complaint-in-california/

  3. Kellie Blevins on August 17, 2017 at 9:21 am

    I have been a manager in a nursing home for almost 2 years and while I was on vacation, the administrator hire another manager for the same department. It is causing great confusion and chaos within the dept as no one know who to report to or what duties we as managers are responsible for. I feel like I am being pushed out (not a heartbreaker for me) but I haven’t found a new job yet. My question is…if I give a 30-day notice (as is typical for management) and they ask me to leave early, do they have to pay me the entire 30 days or just the days worked? They also are going to try not to pay me my vacation time as they say I’m not “eligible” since I’m salaried. However, my paystub showed accruing PTO until last pay period, when it mysteriously disappeared. LOL….
    Help….:-)

  4. Susan FRIEDLAND on July 27, 2017 at 10:39 am

    My daughter’ s resturant is closing for 2 weeks to renovate. ( But we know renovations take longer than expected) Is she eligible for unemployment or at least her hourly salary?

  5. Andy Collins on July 14, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    I was fired from a job that I had for 12 years. My supervisor told me that if I didnt cut my hair that his boss would fire me like he did the rest of “the longhairs”. I had followed every rule that was in regards to employees having long hair (keep in ponytail,etc) I ended up cutting my hair and two weeks later I was fired for falsifying documents! We were required to list our times and jobsites for every day and start our log at 7am . We started work at 7am and got ready on our own time and left the yard at 7am. Our paperwork starts with our first job begining at 7am and ending whenever we finished. The last job of the day ended at 3:30pm I was told that I cannot be at the last job at 3:30 and in the yard (where we parked our trucks) at the same time and therefor I falsified documents and was fired! Every one else followed the same procedure for thier paperwork as I had for 12 years and was not fired. But they had short hair! I couldn’t be fired because of my hair , so he made up a reason to fire me! That’s how they get around the law. If someone gets promoted and doesn’t like the way you look…….well it sucks to be you!!! They will fire you for a phony reason just because they have no valid reason to let you go.

  6. Arlene Carrasca on June 30, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Is there a law that indicates a maximum weight an employee can carry? Does the law indicate anything heavier than 50 lbs, should be tackled by two people? My son worked for UPS for a week today. His supervisor watched him try to carry over 50lbs of weight which in the process, hurt his back. Then during their break, he was asked if he is hurting. He said yes. Then his supervisor told him,”this job is not of everyone. Either you keep going or quit.” My son took the latter. Is this fair practice?

  7. Mike on April 19, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    It looks like almost every poster has already drunk on American Kool-Aid. Here is the deal.

    I have worked for others since I was 10 years old.
    Over time I have been fired at least 1/2 dozen times. (SOME WITH DAMN GOOD REASON).
    I’ve owned several businesses and I’ve fired people before.

    Look business is a process of bringing in paying customers for your product or service at a profit. This is what creates theses jobs everyone gets fired from.

    The problem is most people who are fired are not self reflective enough to realize the role of your job is to increase profit and reduces cost. I you are not good or worst not there you are not fulfilling the role that you applied for and should get axed.

    People please don’t get so hungup on your RIGHTS that you ignore your RESPONSIBILITIES. Best believe as a society we rise and fall together.

    Im done.

    • Al on May 23, 2017 at 5:53 pm

      Well said !

  8. Stephen Gonzales on March 9, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    I am an ex employee, but also a customer at a car dealership. I have been unemployed for 4 months. And worked there for 4 months. Just today my fiancé got fired at the same dealership. She has been working at the dealership for 10 months. Just today she had gotten fired for being “Late for work.”
    The manager didn’t go through with his contract, so I talked to him two days prior to my fiancé’s last day, he ignored me, so I made a review on Yelp about not following through with the contract, and it seems they fired her because they were upset at me, so they took it out on my fiancé because of the situation.

  9. XX on December 22, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    At Will does not mean At Whim. The reason must not be discriminatory nor retaliatory.

  10. Alicia Zepeda-Smotherman on November 15, 2016 at 11:44 am

    My supervisor sent me an email the subject reading:
    Acceptance of Resignation
    Lack of communication, no call back from me.

    The truth is: I emailed communicating that I would be very busy, curator of big family reunion and had family members coming and going from Thursday they Sunday. It was weekend not to mention my personal time off. I explained I would try to call but it probably wouldn’t or couldn’t happen. Monday was beginning of work week so I would do so then.
    He sent me a text stating I needed to contact him ASAP.
    I already had told him circumstances and is now stating that I resigned because I was too busy to respond or call him back.
    I did respond earlier as mentioned.
    I feel sabotoged.
    I love my job and how do I take this further and get my job back?

  11. Matt Whisenhunt on November 10, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    I just got fired after 3 days at a new job because my “personality wasn’t fitting with the team.” 3 days. Barely time to know me. I quit a perfectly decent job for this “amazing opportunity.”

    • Kilburn Hall on December 6, 2016 at 10:45 pm

      welcome to CA “at will”state
      AT WILL or RIGHT TO WORK STATE means absolutely nothing except you have right to apply for job and they have right to fire you for whatever reason they want. And that CA employee handbook of your rights? Meaningless

    • XX on December 22, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      You can file for unemployment. ou will be granted the uemployment benefits since you were let go not becuase of misconduct

  12. Brenda Romo on October 20, 2016 at 4:58 am

    I believe “At-Will” should be strongly looked at by our Government and NOT allowed in ANY State. Firing or demoting someone for little or no reason for any one of the reasons listed above leaves a HUGE gap for employers to practice blatant discrimination. Sex Discrimination, Race discrimination, age discrimination and discrimination against handicapped persons. This “At-Will” gives employers the right to break all these other laws by simply claiming it was their right being an “At-Will” state. Of course any one of the illegal reasons for termination above can be covered up by an employer simply by leaning on the “At-Will” employment state right. Therefore “At-Will” protects and allows employers to virtually get away with practically murder.

    • David Hylton on January 18, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      It does not allow for any kind of discrimination.

      • Sffdg on March 9, 2017 at 7:09 am

        Problem is you’ll never be able to prove they fird oyu for a bad reason.

  13. Sohni Khan on October 2, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    I was demoted by my area manager because she is resist. She demoted me because she only wants her race to work under her. She didn’t fire me because she has no reason to fire me as i’hv been working from a year. She thought if she demotes me i will leave the work and she won’t have to pay unemployment…
    I am working as a general manager and now she wants me to do front desk at motel…
    Is it legal by California law..?
    Can i complain about this to labor department?
    As i am staying in company’s provided apartment and if i work as front desk I’ve to leave the apartment that will be difficult for me because i have a yew old baby.

    • Youcandoit on June 25, 2017 at 7:45 am

      To: Sohni Kahn, Reference to your acceptance letter or job description!

  14. Amber Schultz on September 28, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I got hurt at work I’m waiting on comp hr told me today if my doctor don’t let me return by Friday then I am fired

    • karina Lambert on December 1, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      Hello, you can’t be fired or leg go for as long as you communicate with your office on regards to your injury and as long as you provide the doctors note and your physical restrictions. You can file a complain with the Osha department and labor board in your state. you can be paid by the workers compensation Department, and your medical bills as well and get money if they violated your rights.
      Do your re surge on line.

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