Legal news and tips for employees, by Law Office of Eugene Lee

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.

  • John Ellis

    Can you be fried for being lied on by someone who was retaliating against you for complaining about their work ethics. They told that I instructed them to do something that violate company policy (falsifying documents) but he didn’t sign the document that I was accused of instructing him to sign.

  • Cassandra walker

    Legally , is being pregnant a serious medical condition?

  • Javier Chavez Mendez

    If right that the company need a personal information about the insurance if you deny the insurance that the company is ofering to you?? Is it legal or ilegal?

  • Fitworx

    if a temp only worked a few days, we never got them into our payroll system, how is that handled?

  • mike

    I put in my two weeks bc I didn’t know what else to do due to substance abuse, and 3 days prior to my last day I decided to email my manager that I needed to seek medical help and left at 11am. They terminated me that day after i left and emailed me asking where to send my last check. I am in CA and heard you cant be fired for this. Is this true?

  • Enna

    What if an employer is having an illicit affair can the wife make a complaint?

  • ms

    I just got recently laid off. But I don’t think its a good reason. I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant and I think that’s why. But his reason was because of upcoming cost funds “obamacare & mandatory minimum wag . Didn’t obamacare happen already? Wt

  • Jp

    My employer forces everyone to work at least 1-2 hours overtime for free every day. Whoever complains or leaves on time gets laid off with no reason or paper work saying why, but everyone knows why. The boss says since we are hired “at will” he doesn’t need a reason to fire anyone. If I was fired for leaving at the time I’m supposed to can that be considered retaliation?

  • mother

    My daughter was fired this morning for no apparent reason. They did not give her a reason just said this is not working out. She worked for a record label in LA . Are they required to give her a reason for the termination. She was never written up or even talked to. the HR director stated she was as shocked as my daughter. She then alluded to something being said that was confidential but wouldn’t say what. Does my daughter have any recourse?

  • Hairo Gonzalez

    I got fired for telling my boss my head hurts n I cannot stay n work overtime is this illegal????

  • Sean

    I have a question I was told that I could take time off for a personal matter and then they replace me and weren’t going to tell this illegal I know many things they do is but is this?


    My boss and i had an argument and he fired me due to i refuse to lie for him. **Can i apply for unemployment? Nothing is written down on paper, but my co-worker was present when the incident happened.
    We were both sexually harassed at work verbally (He is married with 2 kids). He asked one of his employees how much for 1 night to stay at his place. Complimented on what a SEXY top i was wearing, kept staring. It was a basic red and black tank top. We were forced to and be very careful of wearing cover ups and loose clothing at all times.
    Were forced to lie on legal papers. Mostly pretend we are someone else who we are not, quantities, or money amounts received.
    He was caught by me pocketing cash at least 3 times (invoices were never created, he just kept the money until our client had problem with product and comes back for refund).
    What i am worried about is there’s no proof on papers of these things happening, other than partial notes i took here and there. Please help.

    • Mike

      my understanding is that if you were fired (regardless of the reason) you are eligible for unemployment

    • Renshaw

      You should have been fired, you’re ab idiot for letting that happen. Take this as a life lesson not to be stupid anymore, and report everything like that

  • Foreignerinusa

    Can someone explain me when is an employee actually harassed, intimidated, discriminated against and what can they ever do to stand for their rights and if they have any rights anymore in America. Seems like in today’s world, the companies and managers have all the rights for any actions without any repercussion.

  • Hunney Martinez

    What happened if I am told if I don’t sign for the employee handbook I can’t work until i sign and inside the handbook there is a at will statement under the Termination Segment in the Handbook

  • Donna Stephens

    So on that note, once you’re terminated how soon are employers required to pay you for hours worked?

  • j. logan

    It seems to me that we as laborers have little to nothing we can do in most situations. I guess that whole “The 1 percent controls the country” idea is true. What do we do?

    • Eugene Lee

      Stand up for your rights, make a written complaint, talk to a lawyer and see what can be done. California has some of the most employee-protective laws in the country.

      • Foreignerinusa

        They only talk to people with money.

    • Foreignerinusa

      We are becoming the third or even the forth world country citizens
      , worse than the current third world countries. Only if we all MINORITIES( the known middle and low class people) come together on the roads and fight back for our rights, nothing is going to happen.

    • oracledba

      Yes, you are right. For many years business group’s lobbyists have pushed to loosen what they see as confining and restrictive rules for managing employees. I can remember reading stories about employee misconduct that was outrageous and yet very little or nothing could be done by their employers. That argument resonated with legislators. Especially since they threatened to leave the state unless some reform was made. Faced with loss of tax revenue they capitulated. Besides, many were business owners themselves and had no problem understanding the argument. Now, I’m reading where the outrageous behavior is coming from employers and their managers.

      I think the problem today is mostly about supply and demand. There are many people still looking for work right now despite the claims about low unemployment rates. So, employers feel no great compulsion to treat employees well. After all, if you aren’t happy there is someone else very willing to take your spot. These days it pays to be the very best employee you can be…sigh.

      So, what do we do? I think there are two things we can do. In the short term consult an attorney to find out what protection or protections you may have. Knowledge is power so arm yourself. Keep your opinions to yourself and try to remain silent so that you don’t call attention to yourself. The second thing to do is, well, vote! If you have concerns about what is happening in the legislature regarding employees rights then vote for someone that represents what you believe in. Frankly, if one isn’t prepared to participate in the voting process then one shouldn’t complain about the outcome.

      just my .02

  • A.Daugherty

    Hello my brother die last Thursday,i call into work for absence,my manager said take how every days u need,so i forget to call in Sunday and the Market manager was trying to fire me,he didn’t but i got a write up,

  • Ladonte Clark

    When your job fire you are they suppose to give you papers on why they are firing you or do uou have to sign documents even if they are a privately owned company im from michigan

    • Eugene Lee

      California is an at-will state, meaning that the employer doesn’t need to give or have any reason to fire you (so long as the reason isn’t an illegal one, like discrimination or harassment or retaliation). There are exceptions, of course. For instance, if there is a union collective bargaining agreement or written policy that says otherwise.

    • Foreignerinusa

      The management from my experience can force you to do anything by threatening with being in subordinate and firing you immediately. And you will do anything to keep your paycheck coming.

  • 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.

    • Foreignerinusa

      They will never ever communicate in writing for you to have any evidences against them yet they can force you by harassing and intimidating you of being insubordinate.

  • 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??

    • Angel

      Yes you can. Put in your statement and don’t sign what so ever if you don’t agree. If they say you can lose your job over that, remind them of the legal term coercion.

  • 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.