Q: Can a person contest an unlawful termination from employment if he/she is under an at-will policy?
A: As an at will employee, the employer has the right to terminate employment for any reason or even no reason at all. The employer does not need a good reason, or an accurate reason. The employer can terminate an employee based on completely erroneous facts, or based on information provided from any source, no matter how incredible the source may be. The employer has no duty to investigate the reason for termination and there is no right for the employee to be given a right to tell their side of the story, or for that story to be believed. Challenging a termination in an at will employment situation is therefore very difficult. However, there are circumstances where you can legally challenge a termination of an at will relationship.
First, it is unlawful to terminate someone because they are a member of a protected class of people, such as race, religion, etc.
Second, it is unlawful to terminate an at will employee because that employee engaged in some form of legally protected conduct, i.e., conduct that some law specifically says you cannot be retaliated against for doing.
Third, certain long-term employees might have the ability to argue that their at will employment was converted to one where there is an implied contract not to terminate except for good cause.
If you think you have a possible legal claim, it would be wise for you to locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site, or go to www.cela.org, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.
Most employment attorneys who practice this area of law work offer a free or low cost consultation in the beginning and then, if the matter has merit and value, will usually agree to work on a contingency basis, meaning you can hire an attorney without paying any money until the matter results in a positive outcome for you. Many advance all the costs of the litigation as well. Do not let fear of fees and costs keep you from finding a good attorney.
Good luck to you.
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