Don’t I have a right to know why I was terminated? What if my employer fired me for something I didn’t do – don’t they have to give me my job back? Without a contract or union agreement in place, California law generally doesn’t require an employer to have a “good reason” for terminating an employee. In fact, they’re not required to tell an “at will” employee why they’re being fired. In California, you’re presumed to be “at will” if there is no contract in place. And that means you can be fired for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever.
Employees who want to bring wrongful termination claims often believe they were fired illegally because their employers didn’t tell them a reason why they were terminated. Sometimes they protest that they didn’t even do the thing that they were fired for.
California Labor Law requires that employees who want to sue for wrongful termination have the burden of proving they were fired for an illegal reason. That could include reasons like being fired in retaliation for filing a workers compensation claim, or asking for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, or for having a disability (but still being able to perform the essential functions of the job.) Generally, this requires some sort of proof. Sometimes, a breach of implied contract action can be brought. In that case, the court would look at all the facts involved – how long the employee worked there, whether the employee received reviews (and what they said), and any promise of continuing employment in exchange for a move, and possibly what written documents such as handbooks and letters say.
If an employee does have a contract for a certain term of employment, then the contract will often govern the circumstances under which an employee can be fired.