Generally, employees in California are presumed as “at will” or “at-will.” An at-will employee does not have an employment contract for a specific period of time. Because the employer and at-will employee do not have a contract to continue the employment relationship for any specific period of time, both can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason that is not unlawful without giving the other advanced notice.
Since an employer can fire an at-will employee without giving advanced notice, an employer can also reduce an at-will employee’s hours or cut entire shifts without notice. It generally does not matter why either. An employer may cut an employee’s hours due to budget cuts, as punishment, for a mistaken reason, or with no reason at all. Unfortunately, when at-will employees hours get reduced, they generally only have the options to accept the reduced hours or find a new employer.
There are a few narrow exceptions. For example, an employer cannot cut an at-will employee’s hours or otherwise take any harmful action against an at-will employee specifically because the at-will employee is a member of a protected class, such as the employee’s gender, race, nationality, or religion. An employer also cannot reduce hours specifically in retaliation for an at-will employee engaging in a protected activity, such as asking for unpaid overtime, making an OSHA complaint, or objecting to race discrimination in the workplace.