Wrongful termination is often difficult to prove because, in California the employment relationship is presumed to be “at will” meaning the employee may be fired at any time, for any reason, as long as it is not for an illegal reason.
The “at will” relationship can be modified either verbally or through custom or practice. For example, if an employee handbook contains a progressive discipline policy where verbal or written criticisms must be made prior to terminating an employee, an argument exists that the employee was wrongfully terminated if the company did not follow its own policies. Similarly, if an employer gives verbal assurances of continued employment, the “at will” relationship may found to have been modified such that the employee had a reasonable expectation of continuing employment for some time in the future. Based on these types of assurances, the employment relationship may be found to have been modified so that an employer could be required to establish “good cause” prior to terminating an employee.
“Good Cause” means “fair and honest reasons, regulated by good faith on the part of the employer, that are not trivial, arbitrary, or capricious, unrelated to business needs or goals, or pretextual. A reasoned conclusion, in short, supported by substantial evidence gathered through an adequate investigation that includes notice of the claimed misconduct and a chance for the employee to respond.” Cotran v. Rollins Hudig Hall Int’l, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal.4th 93, 108. Although the Cotran Court recognized the need for deference to employer decisions (Id. at 101), the employer’s discretion is not unfettered. Otherwise, its implied-in-fact promise to dismiss only for cause would be illusory. Wood v. Loyola Marymount Univ. (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 661, 670.
Wrongful termination claims turn on the individual facts in any given case. It is therefore important that the employee keep copies of any hiring letters, employee handbooks, and performance evaluations so that a reviewing attorney can better assist in evaluating the potential case.
If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination as a result of sex, race, ethnicity, age, religion, medical condition, or because you have opposed illegal activity in the workplace, the attorneys at www.nosexualharassment.com are here to help.
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