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Discharges of At Will Employees and Employees Under Contract, from an Employment Lawyer in Orange County

An employment lawyer Orange County can explain that the status of the employee as a person under contract affects the way that the employment relationship can be legally terminated. Many employees are considered “at will,” meaning that there is no formal employment contract that must be referred to. Employers are free to terminate at will employees for any reason, so long as it is not an illegal reason. However, if there is an employment contract, the employer is obligated to abide by the instructions regarding termination that are part of the employment contract.

Determining Whether There Is a Contract

As an initial inquiry into whether termination was proper or not, an Orange County employment lawyer will first attempt to determine whether there is an employment contract. The contract may be written or oral. It may also be express or implied. An express contract in which one is specifically stated. A written contract may exist in the employee’s personnel file.

In some cases, employers create implied employment contracts without actually intending to do so. An implied contract is created when the employer promises the employee something of value. Most often, this is job security. An employer may not realize that he or she has done this as it could be part of a casual conversation where the employer states that the employee is doing a good job and knows that he or she will continue to be an asset to the team. Another way that an implied employment contract may arise is if the employee handbook makes similar commitments.

If a case involving an implied employment contract is litigated, the legal question will be whether such a promise had enough weight that the employee reasonably relied on the promise. If the court makes this conclusion, the employer will be required to honor the terms of the employment contract and only terminate an employee for good cause.

Circumstances in Which Implied Contracts Arise

Courts have found that implied contracts exist in the following situations:

  • An employer promises that an employee can only be fired if he or she does not perform the job well during the initial interview or in an attempt to influence the applicant to take the job
  • An employee handbook states that employers will be reclassified as permanent after completing a probationary period
  • During a performance evaluation, an employer states that an employee will have a long future with the company if his or her performance continues

Good Cause

If the employee is protected under an express or implied employment contract, the employer can only fire the employee for good cause. Additionally, in the case of an express contract, the employer must comply with the provisions in the contract, including any provisions regarding a certain amount of notice. If there is an express contract, the contract may state the situations or reasons that amount to good cause or simply state that the employee can only be terminated for good cause.

Good cause usually means that there must be a real and legitimate reason for the termination. Additionally, the reason for termination must be based on reasons that align with the goals and needs of the business. An Orange County employment lawyer will explain that good cause may exist for the following reasons:

  • Low productivity
  • Poor job performance
  • Repeated absences or tardiness
  • Refusal to follow directions or obey orders
  • Fighting at work
  • Possessing a weapon at work
  • Violating company policies
  • Threatening or harassing coworkers or supervisors
  • Criminal activity in the workplace
  • Violating safety rules or otherwise endangering the health or safety of coworkers or customers
  • Fraud
  • Insubordination
  • Breaching the employment contract such as revealing company trade secrets
  • Disrupting the work environment or preventing others from fulfilling their jobs

These are just a few examples of what types of actions may amount to good cause. There may be additional grounds that constitute good cause either because they are specifically outlined in the employment contract or because of the particular circumstances involved with the termination.

Legal Assistance

For more information on this topic, contact an employment lawyer Orange County from Daily Aljian LLP.

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