Can Wrongful Termination Happen in an At-Will Employment Company? By Gregory Thyberg on October 29, 2018

A terminated man carrying a boxWrongful termination is a serious matter and is defined as firing an employee for illegal reasons, such as religious discrimination or retaliation.

Most states, including California, are at will employment states. Although at will employment means an employer can fire an employee without reason, wrongful termination can still occur. When someone believes they've been wrongfully terminated, it's important to understand wrongful termination versus at will employment.

Sacramento, CA attorney Gregory A. Thyberg has decades of experience in wrongful termination cases and can determine if you have a case. 

Understanding At Will Employment

At will employment means that an employee or employer is free to end the employment relationship at any time. A reason does not need to be given and advanced notice is not required.

However, there are limitations to at will employment termination. For example, if an employee has signed a contract that clearly states employment will last a certain number of years and he or she is fired in violation of the contract stipulations, termination can be deemed wrongful. Let's take a closer look at what constitutes wrongful termination in at will employment.

How Does Wrongful Termination Occur in At Will Employment?

There are many ways in which being dismissed from at will employment can be considered wrongful termination. Anytime a person is terminated from a job for reasons that violate local, state, and federal laws, specifically anti-discrimination laws, a wrongful termination case may be filed.


Discrimination, or the unjust treatment of someone based on race, age, religion, gender, disability, or pregnancy, is illegal in the work place. Firing someone solely because of his or her race, age, religion, gender, a disability, or pregnancy all constitute wrongful termination, even in at will employment situation. 

For example, firing an employee when she becomes pregnant or after learning she plans to become pregnant can be considered wrongful termination.


Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer fires an employee for engaging in a legally protected activity as an act of punishment. Legally protected activities include such things as formally filing a harassment complaint with an employer, filing a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), or reporting an employer for participating in workplace illegal activity.

A wrongful termination claim can and should be brought against an employer who fires an employee as an act of retaliation. Retaliation creates a hostile work environment and should not be tolerated. 

Breach of Contract

An at will employee may be the victim of wrongful termination in the event he or she is fired despite having a written or implied contract that promises job security.

A written contract may state an employee is guaranteed a certain number of years of work, or it may state that termination can only happen for reasons listed within the contract. If an employee with a written contract is terminated for reasons protected by the contract, he or she may have a case for wrongful termination.

In some cases, there isn't a written contract. Rather, there is an implied contract in which an employer has made verbal promises of employment or job security.

Contact Wrongful Termination Attorney Gregory Thyberg

If you believe you are the victim of wrongful termination, it's important to file within the statute of limitations. Call us at (916) 204-9173 to schedule a consultation.

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Thyberg Law

Since 1981, Gregory A. Thyberg has been providing legal services to clients throughout Sacramento. With a focus on employment law, he can help you find a solution when facing discrimination, harassment, or other workplace injustices. Mr. Thyberg is affiliated with organizations like the:

  • California Bar Association
  • San Francisco Trial Lawyer’s Association

If you're experiencing unlawful discrimination in the workplace, request a consultation with Mr. Thyberg or call (916) 204-9173.

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