Remind managers and supervisors involved in the hiring process never to use the term “permanent” when discussing a job. Doing so may give employees ammunition should they later claim they are not at-will workers.
Best practice: Have employees sign an acknowledgment that their employment is at-will.
Recent case: In 1979, Apolonio Guerrero began working as a laborer at Ameripride. At the time, the company had no employee handbook. Over the years, he worked his way up to a supervisory position.
Guerrero went out on workers’ compensation for stress. After two years, he tried to return. But Ameripride told him he no longer had a job.
He sued, alleging that he was not an at-will employee and could only be fired for cause. He claimed that when he was hired, he was informed that he was a permanent employee, which he took to mean that he could never be fired except for good cause.
The company pointed out that Guerrero knew other employees were at-will because, as a supervisor, he had explained that to his subordinates. He also knew about the at-will provision in the handbook the company eventually adopted.
That was enough for the court to conclude that Guerrero had no reason to believe he was not also an at-will employee. It dismissed his lawsuit. (Guerrero v. Ameripride, No. B224309, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2011)
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