California is an at-will employment state, which means that an employee can be fired for good cause, bad cause, or any cause (so long as the cause is not in violation of California or federal law). However, there is an exception to this. Under the implied in fact contract exception; an employer cannot fire an employee if the employee can show that there is an established and implied employment contract between the parties.
Courts consider the following factors to determine if there is an implied-in-fact contract: employee’s length of service, employer’s policies and practices, and conduct or communication by the employer reflecting assurances of continued employment. California labor law attorneys ensure that employers will be held accountable if they breach an implied in fact contract with their employee.
Employment Contract Employment Case – Challenging the At-Will Doctrine
In Joseph Sebastian v. Christ the King Retreat Center, the plaintiff witnessed a fellow employee engaged in bizarre behavior in a conference room by throwing garbage on the floor, acting irrationally, and shaking objects at witnessing employees. The employer defendant terminated the plaintiff after he complained that it was a safety issue for himself and other employees.
Among other things, Plaintiff argued that he was terminated in breach of an implied in fact contract. Plaintiff was an employee there for roughly seven years. Plaintiff alleged that he was told after he completed his probationary period that the job was his, he has tenure, and that he has a job as long he wants it. Further, upon being hired, plaintiff was given a company handbook contained a provision regarding a discipline policy.
The At-Will Doctrine Lost
Defendant argued that plaintiff was an at will employee and thus could be terminated without good cause. Defendant also argued that plaintiff was terminated because he was insubordinate on multiple occasions during his employment. The jury was not convinced by the defendant’s arguments, and awarded plaintiff $362,296 for breach of an implied in fact contract.
At the end of the day, this case is a win for California employees. If an employer promises an employee certain benefits or long-term employment, and then fires that employee without good cause, then the employee may have a viable case despite California’s strong at-will policy. If you have been wrongfully terminated, and your employer made promises to you during the course of your employment, then call a California employment lawyer immediately to see if there is any legal recourse.