Breach of Employment Contract

In general, breach of employment contract issues do not apply to most California employees as California employees are considered “at will” and do not have an employment contract. At will employment means that both the employee and the employer can end the employment relationship at any time, for almost any reason. An employee can terminate at will employment for any reason or no reason whatsoever. An employer can terminate an at will employee for any reason or no reason at all, so long as the reason is not an illegal action. An employer cannot terminate someone because of age discrimination or race discrimination, for example, but can terminate an employee for a personality conflict, poor attitude, not enough work, or simply for not liking the employee. Neither the employee nor the employer is required to provide the other with any notice to end the employment.

Does employee have a contract for a specific period of time?

Although most California employees are “at will” employees and can therefore be let go with or without cause or notice, an exception to this general proposition exists where the employee has a contract for a specific period of time. In general, this means that in order to avoid a breach of employment contract issue, termination of the employment contract must follow the steps listed in the particular contract. For example, some employment contracts set an employment term of one year, with specific provisions for renewal options.

Has my employer committed a breach of contract violation?

Most employment contracts define the specific reasons (i.e., causes) under which an employee may be terminated. Even if an employee does not have a specific employment contract, an employment contract relating to the manner in which an employee may be terminated, if such a manner is outlined in a policy manual or handbook set forth by the employer. For example, if an employer has outlined a tiered discipline system (i.e. first a verbal warning, then a written reprimand, etc.), the employer is bound to follow that system, and if the employer does not, the employer has committed a breach of  employment contract.

Once an employment contract is entered into by the parties, either through negotiations at the beginning of the employment relationship or through the employer’s creation of particular policies, the employer must honor the terms of the contract. An employee must also honor the terms of the employment contract, with one notable exception. An employee can never be required to continue to work for an employer if the employee wishes to end the employment relationship. To force an employee to work for an employer if the employee does not wish to do so would be to force the employee into indentured servitude, which violates both the California and United States Constitutions.

If you are contemplating accepting new employment, it is highly advisable to consult an attorney during pre-contractual negotiations. The experienced attorneys at Beck Law can review the proposed contract and advise you as to the consequences of the terms, as well as suggest revisions or additional terms that may be more favorable to you.

If you are an employee or employer in Sonoma County, Lake County or Mendocino County and would like assistance with pre- employment contractual negotiations or if you have already signed an employment agreement but believe your employer has violated the terms of your employment contract and a breach of employment contract has been committed, please do not hesitate to contact the breach of employment contract lawyers at our Beck Law P.C. Santa Rosa Office to discuss your situation in a confidential consultation.


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