The general rule in Los Angeles is that employees are at will. This means they can be let go, terminated, or fired for any or no reason, and at any time.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. One of them is that employers can wrongfully terminate someone if they have an implied contract, rather than a written one.
While rare, these instances do happen. When they do, employers can be held liable for firing someone in violation of the implied contract that stipulated continued employment.
In this article, our Los Angeles employment lawyers will answer the following questions:
- What is an Implied Contract of Employment?
- What Evidence Can Prove an Implied Contract?
- What is Considered Good Cause for Termination?
- What Compensation is Available in a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
An implied contract is an agreement that, while it is not written down, can be determined from the conduct of the parties involved. There are often oral elements to an implied contract, as well.
When one of these implied contracts involves an agreement between a worker and an employer, it would be an implied employment contract.
For example, there would likely be an implied contract of employment if a Los Angeles tailor told a seamstress that he would pay her $14 per hour to adjust suits at his shop, and then she showed up to work every weekday for a month and was paid accordingly. In this example, there was an oral agreement that was solidified in conduct, rather than in writing.
Implied contracts of employment are different from written ones in an important way: Written ones come with the presumption that the employee is an at-will employee. At-will employees can be fired for any reason, whatsoever.
Implied contracts of employment do not come with this presumption. Instead, the default term is implied contracts is that the employer will not terminate the worker without good cause.
Proving that there was an implied contract of employment is far more difficult than proving a written one. Written contracts are on paper. Implied ones are not.
Instead of being able to point to a document that details what you do at work, how you get paid, and the other legal rights and obligations that you and your employer have, you will have to turn to you and your employer’s behavior. In Los Angeles, that evidence can take any form that is relevant to the situation, including:
- Bank statements
- Surveillance footage showing a normal working day
- Witness testimony
- Normal industry practices
- The employer’s policies and normal practices
- How the employer treats other workers on staff
Importantly, though, employers can override a written employment contract that explicitly states that a worker is an at-will employee if they tell the worker that they can expect to keep their job for the foreseeable future. When coupled with a promise from the employee – often to finish a particular job – that promise can become binding and create an implied contract. If that happens, the employer would need good cause to support termination, even though it has a written contract that says the worker is an at-will employee.
If you are able to prove that there was an implied contract of employment, though, that does not automatically mean that your employer had no right to let you go. In Los Angeles, they can still terminate workers on implied contracts for “good cause.”
Typically, the grounds for termination would be included in a written employment contract or in an employee handbook. Because there is often neither in an implied contract situation, it is up to the worker to prove that the reason they were let go did not amount to “good cause.”
Good cause for termination depends on the business or industry and even the employer’s normal practices. Obvious instances of when an employer has good cause to fire someone includes:
- The worker committed a crime in the workplace
- Excessive absenteeism
- Being drunk or high at work
In these cases, even though there was an implied employment contract rather than a written one, a discharge would not be wrongful. However, when an employer fires someone with an implied contract for a trivial reason or for a reason beyond the worker’s control, it can be a wrongful termination.
For example, imagine a construction company that offers Jose a job by orally promising to pay minimum wage for manual labor work at a construction site. Jose agrees and works with them for four months. Their conduct creates an implied contract of employment. The company then finds an immigrant that would do the same work for half the cost. If they fire Jose in order to hire this new worker, it can be a wrongful termination.
Workers on an implied contract who have been wrongfully terminated after being let go without good cause are entitled to compensation from their employer. They can pursue this compensation by filing a wrongful termination claim – a civil lawsuit that demands accountability from their former employer.
The compensation that a victim of wrongful termination can recover in a lawsuit will aim to give the victim what they could have expected, had the implied contract been carried through. This includes:
- Past wages and benefits, or those that would have been paid between the date of the termination and the date of the court verdict
- or settlement
Future wages and benefits, covering the value of the implied contract from the verdict or settlement until it would have reasonably come to an end
However, this compensation is reduced by the value of the wages and benefits that you could have earned while your case was pending. This is regardless of whether you actually found another job to replace the one that was lost. It requires workers who have been wrongfully terminated to mitigate their damages by seeking out a job in a substantially similar line of work to make ends meet, rather than do nothing and hope to recover back pay from their prior employer.
Contact A Smart, Resourceful Employment Law Attorney In Los Angeles
If you have an employment contract and you believe it’s been violated, contact Sirmabekian Law Firm, PC today for a free consultation. We know the law. We know your rights. And we know commitment.
Get A Free Case Evaluation
We are here to help you with law questions