Can My Boss Fire Me at Any Time for Any Reason? What is “at will”? (2024)

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.


  1. carina on February 25, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Can you get fired if your boss thinks you’re lying when you really weren’t?

    • Foreignerinusa on July 7, 2015 at 9:58 am

      Yes they have insinuated numerous times and wrote me up with a final warning, without any other previous warnings at all even when you are out very sick with a doctor’s note and have that power over us,.

    • Eugene Lee on October 7, 2017 at 7:50 am

      Yes. Unfortunately, employer stupidity / incompetence isn’t against the law. If there were something more, however; for instance, you were being fired because of racism, discrimination, etc., then that would be illegal.

  2. JGL on February 18, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Can I get fired for clock out late

  3. jessica on February 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    can i be fired for looking for another job? i   work at Grocery Outlet, and my bosses are pretty strict. I applied for a job at the pharmacy and my interviewer called my boss as a reference, can I be fired for this?

  4. Ellie on February 12, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I was fired yesterday and I believe it was due to retaliation for blowing the whistle. I’m a school bus driver who holds a School Bus Certificate, and who has been well trained in rules and regulations with 5 plus tears experience.
    The story: I was driving a bus that when I got out on the HWY it was like steering a ship. I had to turn the wheel back and forth just to maintain the bus in the lane, and when I hit a bump the bus went into another lane and I almost got into an accident. After that time I called it in to dispatch, (everyone heard the problem including upper management.) I got off the HWY and parked where it was safe, and soon after a mechanic showed up, he drove the bus back to the yard and I drove his truck to the yard.
    Approx. 2 hours after the fact learned I was fired … actually I was fired through an email.
    I’ve called an attorney … do I have a leg to stand on?
    On a personal note: I truly believe this bus has been like this and the permanent ( I’m a sub) bus driver has been transporting children/teens/Special needs/Ed students students, putting them at risk, and putting the public at risk.

  5. Armando Aquino on February 11, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    I started work at a warehouse pulling boxes off of a conveyer belt. The crew consisted of undocumented workers who worked really hard because there freedom depends on it. I am also a hard working veteren form the USAF who was terminated because I had pain in my elbow and called in the next dat and was told they no longer needed me. It has been one week and I still have not received my pay check. I do not want to see anyone get deported but I feel like my rights as a citizen are being violated. what can I do?

    • Shirley on February 13, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      You must get your paycheck upon termination. File a claim with your state labor board. You are eligible to receive penalties for late payment. Did you tell your employer about you physical disability? They have a requirement to provide reasonable accommodation. Another thing to bring to the labor board.

  6. ae on February 4, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I work part time and when i applied i gave my availability. My manager now wants to put me to work 5am-5pm everyday of the week and says I have to or else I will be fired. Is this legal?

    • Eugene Lee on February 11, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Unless there is a written promise, contract, policy or collective bargaining agreement or special industry-specific rules that say otherwise, the answer is probably yes. At will employers in California generally have the right to change the terms of employment at any time without notice. That includes the work schedule.

  7. noman on February 4, 2015 at 4:02 am

    Can you be fired for speaking you mind.employer was also asking me to be dis honest to customers in benefiting corporation money .insulting jestures and belittling me.

    • Eugene Lee on February 11, 2015 at 8:30 am

      I would need a lot more information to answer this question. For instance, in Garcetti v Ceballos, the US Supreme Court held that a prosecutor speaking out against an illegitimate search warrant could be punished as that speech was not constitutionally protected. The NLRB has made administrative rulings that employers cannot prohibit employees from speaking together about wages as that would violate the NLRA. Those are just two examples. So the short answer is: it depends.

  8. perezvang on February 3, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    Can my boss changed my schedule at work to a time where I do not have a babysitter. I have told her my available time but she schedule me on those times. She says that its unfair for the other workers if I am the only one how dose not have those hours. My co workers says they will change schedules with me but she won’t change it. she says that I should have a plan B I am not as lucky as others to afford babysitter for those hr. Can she fire me?

    • Eugene Lee on February 11, 2015 at 8:31 am

      I just answered a very similar question. The answer is: Unless there is a written promise, contract, policy or collective bargaining agreement or special industry-specific rules that say otherwise, the answer is probably yes. At will employers in California generally have the right to change the terms of employment at any time without notice. That includes the work schedule.

  9. de on January 27, 2015 at 9:55 am

    can u sue ur boss for moveing you to another store cause other employees were threatening you? I called law enforcement on this incident and they did nothing to the lady and then once I was moved he told me not to come back to work till my medical issues were better

    • Eugene Lee on February 11, 2015 at 8:42 am

      That could be discriminatory or retaliatory but it really depends on the facts of your case. A single fact could change everything. You should call a lawyer to find out if you have a case. Feel free to give us a call at 213-992-3299. The initial consultation is free of charge and strictly confidential.

  10. mypincher on January 27, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Excuse me.. These people want answers!! Getting things off their chests aren’t helping their situations any. Answer their questions!!! I don’t see any rep!ies…

    • Eugene Lee on February 11, 2015 at 8:43 am

      I’m sorry! It is very hard to find the time to catch up on these questions. I will try harder in the future. Thank you very much for your patience.

  11. Paola on January 24, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Can someone Fire tou for calling in sick and bringing a doctors note? Or if an accident happened to you or If your child is sick ? Can you be fired or be given a bad point for that ?

  12. bricio on January 20, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    my manager was outside driming beer with some guys then he left after he left the owner of the place got there started screaming at me and saying why i let them drinking outside i tried to explain to him but he would just say badwords he got to the point that he said to me what are u sucking their dicks fucking mexicans i felt like i was being herrased with out it bieng my fault how can i go about this

    • Eugene Lee on February 11, 2015 at 8:56 am

      That sounds like possible racial harassment/ discrimination. You should talk to a lawyer to see if you have a case as a single fact can change everything. Give us a call at 213-992-3299. The initial consultation is free and strictly confidential.

      • Foreignerinusa on July 7, 2015 at 10:01 am

        No one has contacted me yet although I have submitted online on your website.

  13. liz on January 4, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    question please someone know about if is legal my boss want to me transfer to other store for no reason and even if I didn’t ask for it and didn’t no sign in

  14. Woodrowe Bonner on December 19, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    JUST WANT REASPECT!! ): I’m a manager at McDonalds names woody. me and my supervisor don’t really get along we see each other we do a natural greeting then hell not say anything or come up to me and tell me how many complaints I got an if I don’t know the policy don’t say its “our policy”…another time a customer complaint had with a special promotion ..i was about to tell him after the fact. An he stopped me an said ” let’s be honest” like im about to or already lied??.mind u I’m not rude to the customer an am professional. Today 121914 one of my “skims ” money taken from drawer. I put and dropped in safe the said it was missing. my supervisor looked at cameras and told my store manager i was in a blind spot an told him to suspend me for 3 days even though I’m not proven guilty of anything. My store manager said it was unfair and said hell do one day suspension. Supervisor comes to the store rarly and gives me negative energy an feedback about my work ethic?… An today I got tipped 100$. Like I said I’m professional. Please advice!

    And the person they want me to talk to about the matter..turns out to be my supervisor wife….
    Is this considered as verbal abuse and harrassement?

  15. anon on November 29, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    my boss makes me tip out his immediate family members (brother, wife, etc) to compensate them for working. they are not paid hourly, but paid out of my tips. is this legal to me or them?

    • Niosso on December 10, 2014 at 12:00 am

      The minimum wage for all tip earning employees is $2.75 per each hour worked. Tips may be distributed to multiple employees however all tips shared must either be earned by all employees collectively or the distribution must be agreed upon by all parties involved

  16. Miriam Balingit on November 23, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    My boss brought my previous manager to be my new manager in this Hotel ,They told me while I was working to stopped what I was doing because I don’t have job no more.because this manager will take over the Hotel and I need to move out,Its legal to terminate me?

  17. Kate on November 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Hi my boss made us sign the employee had book but refuses to give us a copy. Is this legal?

    • Eugene Lee on November 21, 2014 at 1:00 am

      If you ask, she or he must give you a copy of all documents you have signed within 30 days. Otherwise, there is a $750 penalty. See Labor code section 1198.5.

  18. tired of it on September 24, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    My employer questions me and speaks to me as one would speak to a teenager. Truth be told he speaks that way to everyone. I’m a commission sales person, relatively successful so I’m not worried about being fired however, I usually ignore the fact that he is patronizing and condescending but the other day I lost it and let my sarcastic nature loose in an email addressed to him. While I realize it was perhaps unprofessional I just don’t care anymore. I’m tired of the owners of graphics houses being borderline abusive with their employees especially the women because they are “owners” or “CEO’s”. What are my rights as a sales person?

  19. Bugbg on April 2, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    My employer does not provide the same vacation time or sick time to all employees, some like my self only get a total of 40 hours a year combined sick and vacation, where others get 3 weeks sick time and 3 weeks vacation time and they were hired after me. According to the company handbook everyone has the same bases upon the years employed.

  20. Brian Kuechler on February 11, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I showed up 20 minutes early for work at 5:00 AM, and the building was locked, with no manager present. After contacting another manager, I was told that the boss (store manager), who was supposed to be there at 5:00, thought he wasn’t working until 6:00, and that I should loiter at the nearby McDonald’s until he showed up. I asked if I should just go home, having already been there for 45 minutes, and was told that, if I did, I would be penalized for leaving early. How long, by law, am I required to stay if the building is locked and the boss isn’t present? I was under the impression it was 15 minutes, but would like clarification. They did say that I would be paid for that hour, but making me wait in a parking lot when it’s 50 degrees outside seems abusive, as does requiring me to hang around a local restaurant when I haven’t ordered anything, as I lacked the funds to do so. Thank you in advance for any consideration.
    -Regards, Brian Kuechler

  21. Sam on February 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    I counted my drawer at work and it had the right amount of money in it when I left. I got home, about 15 minutes later, and my boss called to say my drawer was $30 dollars off and suspended me.

  22. Helpless in Alabama on November 10, 2012 at 2:55 am

    So I work in an at will state and I knew I was about to get fired so I resigned. Even if my employers already had papers drawn but never presented them to me or verbally told me I was fired and I presented them with my resignation letter first which will be listed in my file, a firing or a resignation.

  23. nayeli on August 15, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    Need help myanager fired me at 3:45am 8/15/12 because i complain about her taking my tips is that fair????

  24. Taz on July 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    My boss hired and i only worked for tow days then he fired me because I have and a second job on the weekend. On the interview i told him that i have a weekend job and i’m available M-F only.

  25. tasha caudle on June 20, 2012 at 4:48 am

    hi i live in indianapolis indiana and my friend was workin 12 hour shifts and this morrning his boss said he was fired and wont tell him why. can he sew him for fireing me for no reason because he is a really hard worker and it wasnt fair please let me know asap

  26. Lost on June 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    The board of directors at my job brought in a HR person that seems to be there to make a lot of necessary changes. When I refused to make a formal complaint about her assistant (she inherited) for her to present to the board her attitude toward me changed. Now it seems that she is attacking and threatening me at every move. I am very good at sticking to policy and doing my job I just did not want to get drawn into the feeding frenzy. It seems it may prove to be my demise there. Is there anything I can to to protect myself?

    • Niosso on December 10, 2014 at 12:05 am

      HR employees are the ones who most are supposed to complain to, if it is a private company the o my thing you could really do is find out who her boss is and explain the situation to them, if HR attempts to get you fired or suspended that would be illegal under that fact that that would be a personal vendetta as well as harassment. Past that there’s not much you can do.

  27. jj on June 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    They fire me sayin that i
    Work had zero hrs. They manuall
    went in the computer and change my
    hours i worked

  28. jaime on March 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    can a boss fire you for not willing to change my work hours even thow i have a signed contract?

  29. Lorie_matias on March 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I was discharge… They just call me to talk to the hr and lp people. They said that i disobey rules. After talking to them 2 hr personnal came and hand me my final check and ask me to sign the discharge paper. Is this proper that they didn’t give me any notice? Thank you.

  30. Ajason320 on February 27, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    If let go from a job,  how long does emlpoyer have to pay out last check and vacation pay

  31. Ams_1149 on February 21, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    If an employee complains about another employee and say they are afraid of them causing the employee to get ritten up, does the employee have the right to defend themself and know who their acuser is? 

  32. Raquel on July 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I want my boss to fire me? what can i do so she fires me? Reason i want her to fire me are 1. she gots her son working there for about 9 months now and he was only to work 3 months… he gets paid salary $3000.00 with deduction 2578.00 take home clean… i been with the company for 10 yrs and i only make !17.00 an hr. Last raise she game me was back in 2009 on $1.00 raise and told me that the company is not doing well. which i dont believe any of what she says. she ownes a storage, escrow, and property all over L.A. Her son comes in when ever he feels like it and takes 2-3 hrs lunch and most of his time is on the internet doing nothing. i have to run front office and back office while his out doing his excersice for the day.  Lately i have been pretty up set and just let the phone ring leave customer unattended and just basically just dont care. I feel that they are just using me and want me to quit my job which i wont do. so i need to know what i can do so she can fire me as soon as possible. Am been looking for another job and is just a matter of time. please write to me at or if any one have the same situation please let me know. i will highly appreciated.

    • Stevea1 on July 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      I can understand your frustration, some people at my job have been promoted for not doing much, while I do everything and can’t geet a raise either.  Do you really want to be fired, or just find a new job?  I know in this economy that is hard.  When you fill out an application what will you write for “reason for leaving?”  I have been fired by a previous employer, and it was a horrible experience, I was depressed and almost suicidal for 3 weeks.  They were doing something that wasn’t right, I protested it (too loudly) and the top people in the company tried to find a reason to fire me, they did.  Thier excuse was wrong, but I still got fired, I thought I would never get hired again.  I found a temp job that paid even more than that job.  Try looking at temp-to-hire work, it is better than getting fired.

    • Niosso on December 10, 2014 at 12:07 am

      honestly just keep doing what you’re doing and you’re bound they fired eventually

  33. Dan on July 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    i got fired for asking for 1 day off to visit with family on 4th of july weekend, and my boss told another employe the reason that i got fired, can i sue him for that? i need to know asap plz

  34. concernedEmployee on February 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    My employer expects us to use our own vehicles,phones, and pay for some of the cost to stay at hotels..we receive minimal on mileage and phone allowance and the hotels they choose for us are real cheap and in bad neighborhoods, so basically we pay extra for our safety.Our employer changes policy every other week so it becomes very hard to stay on task, yet they become very upset if you dont follow policy..They always threaten us with firing us if we ask questions.We feel that our rights are being taken from us at this company.What can we do??

  35. D. Clay on February 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Bosses are yelling and cursing at their employees. They have started writing people up for speaking up. HR is backing mgrs up 100%. People are afraid to say anything. What can be done to protect the employees since there seems to be no on in their corner?

  36. David H. on January 26, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Can an employer terminate your employment because of not attending a mandatory meeting? My Employer and I have a verbal agreement which is an understanding of important time alloted to schooling. Should I be concerned if the employer implies that I will be quitting if I do not attend?

    Thank you.

  37. Calgt on January 4, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I and 3 other employees were told today that our office Positions were being eliminated and 3 other job positions were going to be available that we could “apply” and be interviewed for. These positions are for less pay than I am currently making and the hours are different from what I have worked for the past 29 years that I have been employed with this company. (yeah, Happy New Year, right?). Do I have any rights, and if I choose not to apply for a position, will I get unemployment?

  38. Donna Chapman on December 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I feel I am being discriminated agaisnt for my medical history and not to mention the fact that I know of certain situation where this doctor has written prescriptions (Hydrocodone) for an employee. Even refusing the actual written prescription stating that he’s a doctor and he can write out prescriptions also. All the person wanted was a reimbursal of $ 156.00 which he already stated he would pay for out-of-pocket-costs that Kaiser didn’t cover. But when the receipt was brought to hime he didn’t want to pay such a high price and that he can order the prescriptions from MWI for only $ 16.00 a bottle? So you would rather do something illegal and could lose you DEA license. Than pay the $ 156.00 dollars? Well who’s gonna find out? His famous words….What should I do?

  39. Donna Chapman on December 9, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Dear Eugene Lee,

    First off, let me start by thanking you for this “Question and Answer” section you have provided. Where shall I start…back in February of this year I got hired at Animal Eye Specialists. I never recieve an employee handbook nor did I sign anything stating the “termination policy.” When I was hired I told Dr. Hacker everything regarding my medical history even including my current prescriptions. This past Sunday I tweaked my back sliding a tempurpedic mattress into the guest room. Monday I woke up not able to stand or even be on my feet for to long. I talked to my doctor at Kaiser, who left it up to me on whether I should be at work (with restrictions). He wrote me a note for Monday and Tuesday ( I did show up for the morning on Tuesday, only to have Dr. Hacker excuse me from the afternoon to take care of my back at Kaiser) Wednesday morning I was feeling slightly better but unsure of my footing since i was feeling weak. I emailed him Wednesday morning ( I still have a copy of both emails) only to find an email from him stating that I had quit? What? So I quickly responded stating that I felt he was looking for any loop hole to let me go. He had already stated how pissed off he was that I hurt my back and that CA is an at-will. I think he feels that I was going to throw him under the bus which he mentioned several times not to do. About writing a prescription for a controlled substance (hydrocodone) 3 bottles for an employee. Which is a whole other issue….What should I do?

    • Eugene Lee on December 9, 2010 at 4:44 pm

      Give me a call at 213-453-1781 to discuss further.

      How many employees at this company?



  40. Marcelino Enriquez on November 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I’m employed by a private company in SFO airport who’s main office is base in Texas. I took a senior technician test and was told that I failed the test, i was denied of examining my papers. Is there any law that covers this issue in california or San Francisco county? Thanks

  41. Dolcezza157 on October 29, 2010 at 12:11 am

    I am being forced to resign or be terminated because I do not want to return working in an hostile environment. If I am terminated can I collect unemployment?

  42. Marbar81 on October 24, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I got hurt and broke my arm and I couldn’t work any more. My boss told me he needed someone that could work and this was my last check. Is this legal

  43. Ivan on September 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    i was fired from my previous employer for fake infractions, they adopted the at-will policy… the company refuses to pay my unemployment benefits can i sue…

  44. Edwina J, Barnett on July 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    I had worked at my former job for 5 years when I was abvruptly fired on Friday 2/12/10. I wasn’t given any reason until I pressed the issue then was told it was for poor job performance. I never received any performance evaluations from my supervisor so how would I know there was any issue with my performance? I believe I was fired so they could hire someone new and receive stimulus money from the government. I found an article online where they talk about hiring people from some specific programs through Workforce In Action (WIA. I am 55 years old and having a very hard time finding another job in this economy. I spoke with a lawyer soon after I lost my job about suing but was told that due to at will I wouldn’t be able to. This is so unfair!! Is there anything I can do about this?

  45. Postergal on January 6, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    An at-will employee may be fired at any time with or without legal grounds. Should you feel that you are fired illegally then you may ask the assistance of an employment lawyer to recover claims.

  46. kyla on March 23, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Can my boss fire me if the business has had a fire? The business will be running in the future.

  47. Eugene Lee on February 23, 2008 at 6:04 am

    J, you can but it depends on the type of legal issue involved. For instance, you can bring a claim against your boss, personally, for harrassing (sexually, racially, etc.) you in violation of anti-discrimination law. Another example would be defamation. Without more information, it’s hard to give a more detailed answer.

  48. J on February 23, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Q: Can I sue my boss,personally, without sueing the company I work for?

  49. Eugene Lee on January 25, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Jack, thank you for the comment. I think your comment raises a great point that I think I will make the subject of my next post. But to be brief, employees have PLENTY of meaningful recourse. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have any clients! California is perhaps the most pro-employee state in the Union. I like to think that employees are relatively well-protected here.

  50. Jack Payne on January 24, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Of all your reasons, I like “and on and on and on” best. What meaningful recourse does an employee have? None and none and none.

Leave a Comment