California law presumes that all employees are at-will employees. This means that unless you agree with your employer to the contrary, you can be fired at any time, without reason and without notice, and that, similarly, you can quit your job any time you like and don’t have to provide any notice—you can just stop showing up. Unless you have an employment agreement with your employer or unless there is some memorandum of understanding or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place between you and your employer, you are most likely an at-will employee.
Sometimes, the company you work for will say or do things that might imply that your future employment is guaranteed for a specific period of time, but generally speaking, most employees are considered to be at-will employees.
If you can show to a judge or jury that you were promised or guaranteed employment for a specific period of time (by some action or inaction representing agreement on behalf of your employer), your employer may need to show that there was cause to fire you to justify such an action.
This is why employers require employees to sign at-will employment acknowledgment statements or at-will employment forms. However, these statements only confirm at-will employment and don’t mean anything more than what California Law already provides—that an employee’s employment may end “at the will” of either the employee or the employer, unless there is some agreement to the contrary.
Further, at-will employment is no excuse or defense to wrongful termination, discrimination, or retaliation claims, nor for claims for harassment. In other words, even if you are an “at-will” employee, your employer may not violate the law and can’t fire you for improper or unlawful reasons. If you believe you are being discriminated against, retaliated against or harassed at work, your employment “at-will” simply won’t matter in any legal action you may bring. And if you’re asked by your boss to sign a statement agreeing that your employment is at-will, keep in mind that you’re only agreeing to what the law already spells out. So what?