Legal news and tips for employees

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

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.

  • You are wrong

    You misspelled he*

  • Btrono

    Can you be released from a probation ( probation is 1 year) without getting any performance evaluation. I’ve worked for 6.5 months when I was let go and was told since I was on probation I do not have any right to appeal or contest their decisions. Also, CA is “at will ” state. PLease advise since most employment applications specially for the government asks “If you’ve been terminated or released from probation, or resigned before you were terminated”. Released from probation sounds like you did NOT pass probation. I felt like I can’t fin another job because of this question.

  • Shane

    I have a contract that states that if I am not being let go for “cause” then they have to give me 30 days notice plus one month of severance pay. My last day is on Friday and my employer is telling me that I will not get my final check until Monday and they are telling me that I will remain on payroll for one month as my severance. Is this legal or do they have to give me my final check to include severance. I am feeling a bit bullied. Please help. Thanks.

  • Shawnna S.

    I was fired the day after emailing my boss informing him that I do not appreciate the way he is treating me (discrimination). He has outwardly admitted to me on more than one occasion that he uses me to gain trust from his clients as I am a pretty Caucasian woman, and I will bring him more clients. I also asked him in this email why my raise will not be applied to the up and coming paycheck as promised. Might I add that this was my 2nd raise in less then 3 months, so apparently, I was doing my job and more as asked. Also informed him on 3 separate occasions attempting to get him to acknowledge the “IRS standard mileage rates.” I drove my own car, 5 days a week out on the field inspecting other peoples work/sales. There were days that I would drive upwards of 200+ miles and he would only reimburse me $20 for the day. The 2015 standard mileage reimbursement is .5750 cents a mile. He also admitted to me that he only hires janitors within his race. Might I mention that one day when he and I were out on a job, he told me that he cleats on his wife every weekend (he also owns a night club/bar). Once we were driving down the street and there was a lady jogging down the street. He, out loud said “WOW! Those are some big t**s!”(fill in the blank). I told him that is not cool, and that she is just out exercising. He has zero respect for American woman, and he has made this very clear with his behavior. There is so much more I could say pertaining to this person. I should also mention that I worked for this business for a short 3 months and 1 week. He has also admitted to having illegals working for him. On numerous occasions I would be subjected to him and his friends speaking their language in the office while giggling and looking into my office. This man has broken so many different employment laws right in front of me with another employee. I know that I have a case, though I would love to get some insight from the population. Thank you. By the way, I live in Washington State, and worked in Oregon State. Not sure if this makes any difference.

  • Classic

    Where I work there’s family members that work at the same place
    Also there a upper management that had a affair with a employee and had a baby and work at the same location

  • rpd

    I am a mortgage underwriter and started a new job with a mortgage company. In my offer letter, I agreed to the possibility of working overtime–which was communicated to me during my interview as “voluntary.” I signed my offer letter excepting the terms outlined. This week, a memorandum has been issued which is attempting to revise the terms of employment which essentially mandates overtime to be worked in order to complete minimum work product requirements not completed within a 40-hour week. In addition, the company has outlined within this memorandum what constitutes minimum work product requirements. The minimum work product requirements cannot be reasonably met within a 40-hour work week which essentially would require me to work overtime to complete the minimum requirements–something I am not willing to do.

    I am considering not signing this document and holding my employer to the agreement originally signed to in my offer letter. Can I legally do this without risk of termination?

  • reygav

    I’m a delivery driver with a same-day delivery courier company. Aside from the $9.00/hour pay that we get, we were promised to be paid mileage at $0.25/mile. I’ve been working with them for almost 3 months now but I noticed the mileage they promised are not being paid fully. Imagine being paid only $87.00 for 700 plus miles. When I tried to figure out how they arrived at the $87.00 figure it was as if they were just giving us back the gas expenses we have advanced in making our deliveries. When I asked about this, the Operations Manager answered that they only pay from the pick-up point (A) to the delivery point (B). Is this legal? It looks like the drivers has to shoulder gas expenses going to point A. Please advise what to do.

  • May

    Can you refuse to sign a write up if you disagree with it??

  • ceci

    I complained about a coworker, she is lazy and does not help at all. She takes care of the supervisor child, and the supervisor defends her a lot, saying we should help her out that we should be a team, but there has been customers and other employees complained about her attitude and lazyness. I called and complained about this with someone superior than her and now the supervisor told me that its the complainer who has to leave and that by calling our superior was wrong and that they dont care and to think about leaving the job if i dont like it.