Employment Law/termination


My husband and brother in law both work for their uncle in a family auto repair shop.  A few months ago there was some family squabble and our aunt threatened us with dropping our insurance "because she can" I found out she can't and fought back.  Now they have told my brother in law Friday should be his last day because his aunt thinks he flipped her off one day.  She claims she has spoken with a lawyer and she can fire anyone for anything because they are sole proprietors.  i advised my brother in law to get the termination in writing or keep going to work because she was incorrect about the insurance and I believe she is incorrect here too.  he has never been written up in the 13 years the shop has been operating and there are 2 other employees who have not been there as long as he has so it is not downsizing.  Where can I direct him for help and is this actually legal just because they are sole proprietors?


While California is known to be an employee-friendly state, the state does still recognize the principle of "employment at will."  This means that unless an employer's action violates a specific state or federal statute, such as those prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, age, gender, disability, etc., or prohibiting disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to do something that is unsafe or illegal, the employer can indeed fire an employee at any time for any reason, or no reason.  This is true for any employer, regardless of the form of the business (i.e., sole proprietorship, corporation, partnership, etc.)

That said, it is probably worthwhile to at least have an initial consultation with an experienced California employment attorney.  There might be other facts which would indicate that firing your brother in law could violate one of the exceptions to the employment at will rule, or that another claim exists, such as one based on wage and hour rules.  If you don't know of an attorney in this field, do an Internet search on the name of your city and county and the words "Bar Association referral."  This should bring up web sites where you can get referred to an attorney specializing in California employment law, who can meet with your brother in law and help determine whether he has any possible claim.

I hope this is helpful to you.  

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Frank C. Magill


I can answer questions about any U.S. labor or employment law question. I cannot answer questions about non-US law. I am not a specialist in employee benefit law (ERISA and HIPAA) or Workers' Compensation law, but will do my best to point questioners toward good resources availabe online. Expertise includes, without limitation, EEO/Affirmative Action/Employment discrimination (Title VII, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, GINA, Fair Credit Reporting Act as applied to employment); Fair Labor Standards Act; Texas labor code; Family Medical Leave Act; employee compensation; discipline and dismissal; force reductions, severance pay programs and administration; collective bargaining, union representation, grievances and arbitration, National Labor Relations Act and National Labor Relations Board; employee handbooks; staffing; dispute resolution outside of traditional labor agreements; employee communications; employment policies and compliance programs; codes of ethics; employment or labor litigation.


30+ years experience as corporate counsel for a Fortune 100 telecom company, specializing in labor and employment law issues. In addition to providing day-to-day advice to my company's internal HR leadership and staff, I've represented the company in numerous labor arbitration cases and at the bargaining table.

Texas, Illinois and Missouri state bars

J.D. 1979, Harvard Law School. B.A., Summa Cum Laude, 1976, Illinois Wesleyan University.

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