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Does an employment contract have to be written?

California, like most other states, is known as an “at will” state when it comes to employment. What that means is that in most cases an employer can fire a worker at any time. Likewise, an employee can voluntarily leave a job at any time.

However, there can be times when the relationship between an employer and employee can be construed to be a contract. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a contract in writing. In fact, in most cases, it’s more likely that the employer-employee agreement will be founded on established provisions of California labor law and that any enhancements will be based on a verbal agreement or generally understood business policy.

As you might expect, this can result in confusion in some employee termination cases. Workers may be unsure whether unwritten rules or policies represent solid grounds for challenging their firings. When such questions arise, rather than presume that the at will standard is all that applies, it’s better to consult with an established employment law attorney.

Some of the terms and conditions that may be provided for in an employment contract, whether they are implied or in writing, could include such things as:

  • Health benefits
  • Grievance procedures
  • Paid time off policies for illness and vacation
  • Restrictions on behavior after an employment relationship ends

Non-compete agreements fall into that last category. But it’s crucial to keep in mind that under California law such agreements are generally void, making them very difficult to enforce. What it boils down to is that to protect your rights, you need to know your rights.


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