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Can You Legally Terminate an Employee in California?


 He dressed well and looked the part, seemed knowledgeable during the interview, and had all the experience you were looking for. He appeared to be the perfect fit for the job opening within your company. However, a few months after hiring him, you knew you made a big mistake. Unfortunately, you have to be careful how you terminate an employee in California. If an employee has engaged in poor conduct such as violating company policies, failing to come to work on time, or sexually harassing coworkers, it is much easier to terminate that person; but what if someone just is not right for the job?


California is an at-will employment state, which means that if there is not a contract involved, you can terminate an employee at any time for any reason that is not in violation of state or federal laws. However, employers must still be careful to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits.


Avoiding Wrongful Termination Claims


Although California is an at-will state, when it comes to employment, there are two exceptions. First, an employee who has a contract may be protected from this at-will termination. The “without cause” may not apply to employees who have a contract in place. This means that you have to have a justified reason for terminating the employee as lined out in the contract. The employee is likely entitled to disciplinary warnings and notices before termination.


The second at-will termination exception is if the termination is in violation of state or federal law. Illegal reasons to terminate an employee may include, but are not limited to, the following:


  • Discrimination: You cannot terminate a person’s employment based on their ethnicity, religion, ancestry, gender, disability, pregnancy, age, military service, or sexual orientation.

  • Retaliation: You cannot terminate an employee to retaliate against them for reporting an act that they believed to be illegal to a government agency or superior. For example, you cannot terminate an employee that truthfully reports that another employee sexually harassed her.

  • Use of Medical Leave: You cannot terminate an employee who uses FMLA leave, sick leave, maternity leave, serious medical condition leave, or child bonding leave. This leave, however, does have to be legally authorized. Any employee who takes substantial unprotected leave can be terminated legally in some situations.


Any type of potential termination of an employee should be discussed with your business attorney, especially if the employee has any type of contact in place that protects his or her employment.


Consult with an Experienced Attorney Today


The attorneys at Verhagen Bennett LLP can help you understand your rights as an employer and help you through the process of terminating an employee legally. We can analyze the facts surrounding the situation to ensure that you are complying with state and federal laws. We can also help you structure a termination process to reduce the likelihood that you end up in the middle of wrongful termination litigation. To schedule a consultation, contact us today at one of our California locations.


© 2019 Verhagen Bennett LLP — This article is for general information only. The information presented should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.



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