In the absence of an agreement otherwise a worker in California is generally presumed to be an “at-will” employee. This means that an employee can be terminated for any reason, no reason or arbitrary reason as long as it’s not an illegal reason (such as discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc.) Once an employee establishes that he/she might have been terminated for unlawful reason, an employer will be required to defend its termination by demonstrating “just cause.” Employers covered by collective bargaining agreements are also typically required to demonstrate “just cause” for any disciplinary action involving a covered employee. Thus, it is important to understand the “just case” term of art. In determining whether the employer had just cause for terminating an employee, the following questions should be asked:
* Did employer’s action violate any statute or policy?
* Did the company investigate to determine whether the employee actually violated the rule for which he was disciplined or terminated?
* What the company’s investigation fair and objective?
* During the investigation, did the company obtain substantial evidence or proof that the employee was guilty?
* Has the company applied its own rules and discipline, as outlined in employee handbook or similar materials, fairly and consistently to all employees?
* Is the degree of discipline reasonable proportional to the seriousness of the proven offense or violation in light of the gravity of that offense as compared to overall performance, track record and length of service of that employee?
* Has the employee been honestly informed of the reasons for discipline or termination?
Generally, especially in the context of unionized employee covered by CBA (collective bargaining agreements), just cause for termination is something more serious than a minor misconduct or isolated incidents of negligence, as there is both semantic and legal difference between “cause” (which can be any cause) and “good cause.”