John Guz had worked for Bechtel for more than 20 years when his job was eliminated. Although Guz was an at-will employee, he claimed that his long record of raises, promotions and favorable reviews, coupled with company policies on issues such as, indicated he could be dismissed only for good cause. The downsizing, he claimed, was a mask for eliminating a division the company thought was performing poorly without following the progressive discipline policy.
The California Supreme Court ruled, however, that the company had an absolute right to cut the jobs, even if disappointment with performance influenced the decision.
The company's policies did not restrict its freedom to "reorganize, reduce and consolidate its work force for whatever reasons it wished," the court said. (Guz v. Bechtel National Inc., No. SO62201, S.Ct. Calif., 2000)
Advice: Employees tend to believe their employer owes them more the longer they are employed. As California's highest court correctly pointed out, longevity alone does not alter an at-will relationship.
To help preserve your ability to hire and fire at will, remind employees in handbooks and other policy distributions that their employment is at-will and remains so unless the company specifically alters the terms, usually in writing.