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A decision last month by the California Supreme Court addressing at will employment demonstrates why employers should strongly consider using written at will employment contracts. An “at will” employment relationship is one in which the employer and the employee can terminate with or without cause with or without notice.
As the Court ruled, a written at will contract strengthens an employer’s ability to obtain pre-trial dismissals of breach of employment contract lawsuits. An at will provision does not insulate an employer from a wrongful termination in violation of public policy cause of action. Nevertheless, it remains advisable that employers use written contracts to expressly set forth the at will nature of the employment relationship.
The absence of a written contract with an at will provision does not preclude an employer’s ability to rely on the presumption that an at will employment relationship existed in defending a breach of contract lawsuit, however, defending the action is more difficult as the focus will be on what oral representations were made. A concisely drafted written at will employment contract that includes terms which negate all prior oral or written representations and mandate that all modifications be in writing will virtually eliminate an ex-employee’s ability to introduce oral evidence to contradict the written contract.
Accordingly, in order to avoid costly and needless litigation with ex-employees over breach of contract claims, it is recommended employers utilize one to two page written at will employment contracts.
Bob Caietti is a partner with Walters & Caietti, APC, specializing in labor and employment law. The firm’s Temecula office is located at 40140 Winchester Rd., Ste. C, 951.693.2024 its San Diego office is located at 3655 Nobel Dr., Ste. 510, San Diego CA 92122, 858.623,5655,and is on the web at www.walterscaietti.com. Bob’s email is email@example.com.