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.


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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.”

    • 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    • 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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Law Office of Eugene Lee
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