California Termination (with Discharge) laws & HR compliance analysis

California Termination (with Discharge): What you need to know

California is an “employment-at-will” state. This means that, in general, either the employer or the employee may end the employment relationship without giving either notice or a reason (CA Lab. Code Sec. 2922).
Employment at will in California also means that employers may unilaterally demote employees or reduce their salaries (Singh v. Southland Stone, 186 Cal. App. 4th 338 (Cal. App. Ct. 2010)).
However, an employment contract, public policy, or statute may limit the employment-at-will doctrine.
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As a general rule, if a federal, state, or local law grants employees the right to engage in an activity or to enjoy a benefit, employees should never be disciplined, discharged, or otherwise retaliated against for requesting or attempting to do so.
To list a few key examples, state law prohibits employers from discharging employees for engaging in the following activities:
Alcohol or drug rehabilitation. California employers with 25 or more employees may not discipline employees for participating in alcohol or drug rehabilitation, but they are permitted to discipline or discharge employees if they are unable to perform their duties, or cannot perform the duties in a manner that would not endanger their health or safety or the health or safety of others, because of their current alcohol or drug misuse (CA Lab. Code Sec. 1025).
Civil Air Patrol members. Employers with more than 15 employees may not terminate or otherwise discriminate against an employee who is a voluntary member of the California Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force) and who exercises his or her right to take leave under the Civil Air Patrol Employment Protection Act to respond to ...

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