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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 11257
Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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I work in California which I understand is an at-will employment

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I work in California which I understand is an at-will employment state, ie the employment relationship can be terminated by either party at any time, for any reason not illegal. However, in my offer letter, titled "Employment Agreement", it does not use the "at-will" term anywhere. I'd like to resign and the letter says voluntary termination needs a 30-day notice. My question is does the agreement override the at-will rule? If so, under the termination without cause section, the employer can let me go with just a 14-day notice. This doesn't seem fair. Is there a legal ground for me to resign in 14 days?
Good evening and thank you for entrusting me to assist you. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I will do everything I can to answer your question.

Legally speaking, this sort of provision converts the "at will" relationship into a "term" employment contract of 30 days which begins on the day you give notice. Practically speaking, unless there is a liquidated damages clause which specifically assigns a dollar figure to the "damages" your employer will sustain if you leave in advance of the 30 day notice period, they would have little incentive to pursue a lawuit for breach of contract against you because their actual damages will, in all liklihood, be nominal.

That is to say, you may be "breaching" your contract if you quit in advance of your 30 day's notice, but the damages your employer will sustain as a result of that breach if you leave, for example, on the 14th day, will be minimal if even provable. Your employer is going to have to incur the time and expese of finding and training a repalcement either way, so that's not a damage. The only harm to your employer is that they now will have to do those things sooner. The value a jury is likely to subscribe to that harm--again without a liquidated damages clause which specifically sets a value to your employer's damage--is most likely less than the cost of a civil court filing fee.

I hope this makes sense. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.

If you do not require any further assistance, please be so kind as to provide a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you. Very best wishes and kindest regards.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for the quick reply. On specific dollar figure for "damages", I don't see any but there is a clause that says if it went to the courts, the winner is entitled to reasonable cost and attorney's fees from the other party. Resigning in less than 30 days breaks the contract so do they count as "damages"? If so, could you explain what to expect for reasonable cost and attorney's fee besides a civil court filing fee?

Rick,

Thank you for your reply and please excuse my delay in getting back to you but I had retired for the evening by the time you replied.

To take a case to trial, even on simple facts, can take 30-50k. That certainly seems daunting, but there is a way to curtail liability for such fees. It's called making a "998 offer," which is a settlement offer pursuant to Civil Code 998. That section provides that a defendant who makes a 998 offer to settle their case, which the plaintiff rejects and then fails to "beat" at trial (meaning they fail to recover something greater) must pay the other side's costs. Where the parties are suing over a breach of contract whcih includes an attorney fee provision, costs include attorney fees.

This means that if you made and beat a 998, you would not only limit the other side's attorney fees to what they incurred before making the 998, THEY would actually become liable for your attorney fees subsequent to the offer.

Obviously, a 998 offer is a powerful tool and provides much needed protection in this sort of circumstance from a plaintiff who potentially would "run up the bill" in order to take a small amount of damages and turn it into something substantial.

All you'd need to do to avoid that is immediately make a 998 offer to settle the case which you were confident you could beat. I can't tell you what to offer because I can't provide legal advice, and I would strongly encourage you to consult with a local attorney in the event you are sued, but reasonable damages under these circumstances are unlikely to exceed a couple thousand dollars, at most.

Again, please feel free to let me know if you have any further concerns. If I have answered your question, I would be very grateful for a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you.

Kindest regards.
Patrick, Esq. and other California Employment Law Specialists are ready to help you
Rick,

This question is still open and so I wanted to follow up with you to see if there was anything else I could assist you with. Please let me know and I will do everything I can to help you further.

If I have answered your question, I would be very grateful for a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you.

Kindest regards.

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