Do you need a reason to terminate an employee?

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If you inform one of your employees that you are firing them and the following day will be their final one with the company, they may be frustrated. They may claim that you need to have a reason or that you need to give them advance warning.

But is any of this true? California is known for having more comprehensive employment laws than other states, but it is still an at-will employment state. This means that the employment can be ended by either party, simply at their will to do so. An employer does not need to have a reason to fire that person and does not need to prove cause, just as an employee does not need to give advance notice or cite a reason to quit.

Potential violations to avoid

There are two ways in which you could potentially violate this rule. The first is if the employee has a contract. If you have agreed to an order of operations for an employee to be terminated in a binding contract, then it has to be followed. For instance, that contract could say that they can only be fired for cause and that they deserve a month of advance notice. But without a contract, none of this is necessary.

The second issue is if the employee is being fired for a prohibited reason, such as age, gender, race or religion. If the real reason for the firing is one of these protected classes, then it is a wrongful termination. This is why providing the employee with a reason can sometimes be beneficial, as it shows that the employee wasn’t fired for one of the illegal reasons noted above.

As an employer, if you find yourself in a dispute, it’s very important to understand all of your legal options.