We often hear from prospective clients who wonder if they can be fired for no reason or for a false reason. The answer is not as straightforward as you might think—but if your employer is lying about why they fired you, you may have a case for wrongful termination.
What Does At-Will Employment Mean?
Like most states, California considers most employees “at-will,” unless you have an employment contract or union contract that alters the at-will relationship. At-will employment means that either the employee or employer can end the employment relationship “at will.”
At-will employment means that your employer does not need “cause” to fire you. That means they do not need to show you engaged in any serious misconduct. You may be fired because you do not get along with your boss, because you are late, or because your employer wants to eliminate your position, for example. This is because your boss does not need any reasonto fire you. Trivial reasons may be legal. Reasons that are bad business may also be legal.
Employers often hide behind “at-will” employment to terminate employees for illegal reasons. But this isn’t how at-will employment works. Being an at-will employee does not mean your employer can fire you for illegal reasons.
Can My Employer Fire Me for No Reason?
The short answer: yes. But they cannot fire you for an illegal reason. This is a hard thing to prove, but top employment lawyers do it every day.
Usually, people ask us this question when their employer refuses to tell them the reason for their termination. Employers are not required to tell you why they are terminating you.
That said, why isn’t your employer admitting why they fired you? Of course, we all know that there is almost always a reason when someone is fired. So why won’t your employer tell you?
Employers often refuse to explain why you were fired when they know the reason is a bad or illegal reason. Few employers will say, “I just don’t like working with pregnant women because they’re unreliable,” or “your medical leave was annoying so we’re firing you,” even if that is what they actually think. This would be admitting to discrimination. Instead of admitting discrimination, employers sometimes refuse to provide a reason to say you are being fired because you are an at-will employee.
A good employment lawyer will look behind the employer’s explanation (or lack thereof) to ask if the termination makes sense.
Can My Employer Lie About Why I’m Being Fired?
The answer is yes, with a huge caveat.
Lying about why you were fired is evidence of “pretext,” meaning that your employer is hiding why they fired you—possibly because the reason is discriminatory, retaliatory, or otherwise illegal. Lying itself may not be illegal, but it can be evidence that your termination was motivated by an illegal rationale. Otherwise, why not tell the truth?
Often, we prove wrongful termination by showing that your employer is not telling the truth about why you were fired. We show that employers are lying about why you were fired by showing that others were treated better than you, that your employer’s reason makes no sense, or that there is a pattern of treating employees in your protected class (e.g., women, minorities, workers with disabilities) worse than other workers, among other things.
Talk to an Experienced Wrongful Termination Attorney
If you think you may have been wrongfully terminated, it's critical that you know your rights. Our experienced wrongful termination attorneys are here for free consultations and can talk you through your situation. Few things in life are more stressful than losing your job and livelihood. We are passionate about helping people who have been wrongfully terminated.
If you may have been wrongfully terminated, do not hesitate to contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.