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Is California a Right-to-Work State?
(Pros & Cons Explained)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

Schmidt & Clark, LLP is not currently accepting these types of cases and has posted this content for information purposes only. We encourage you to seek a qualified attorney, if you feel you might have a case.

California's employment laws provide a unique landscape for employees and employers alike. Understanding the nuances of the Golden State's approach to labor unions, employee rights, and the interplay between federal and state laws is essential for both parties.

As an experienced labor attorney with vast knowledge of federal law regarding the at-will employment relationship, I'll explore California's employment law intricacies and examine the state's right-to-work laws in this article.

Quick Summary

  • California is not a right-to-work state.
  • Right-to-work laws allow workers to choose union membership or not without consequence.
  • Employees are legally protected from retaliation when speaking up about workplace safety concerns in California.

Is California A Right-To-Work State?

No, California is not a right-to-work state [1]. In a right-to-work state, employers may not require employees to join or remain in a labor union as a condition of employment.

However, in California, it is perfectly legal for employers to enter into collective bargaining agreements with unions that require all workers in certain job classifications to join the union.

What Is A Right To Work Law?

An applicant shaking hands with the employerA right-to-work law is a law that protects employees from being forced to join a union or pay union dues to secure or maintain their employment [2].

In states with right-to-work laws, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their decision not to join a union or pay dues.

This differs from the situation in California, where private employers can require union membership or dues payment as a condition of employment.

While right-to-work laws can grant employees more independence in their employment choices, they also have pros and cons.


Right-to-work laws can benefit workers by expanding their rights, ensuring unions are held accountable, and granting employees more financial freedom.

By not being forced to join a union or pay dues, employees can choose whether to support a particular labor organization and how to allocate their financial resources [3].


On the flip side, right-to-work laws can negatively affect employees. With a decline in union membership, workers may lose the security and influence of collective bargaining power.

As a result, California employees without union representation may not enjoy the same benefits and protections as their unionized counterparts.

Read Also: California Full-Time Hours Labor Laws in 2023

What Are Some Right-To-Work States?

Employer hiring new applicants

Some right-to-work states include Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Currently, there are 27 right-to-work states in the United States, making up more than half of the country. 

These states have laws prohibiting employers from making union membership or dues payment a requirement for employment. It is important to note that this is different from California, where there are certain circumstances where employers are legally allowed to require union membership or dues payment.

"Two major reasons why an employer's decision to fire an employee might violate labor laws. The first is if the employment arrangement is not truly at will. The following employees may not be considered at-will employees."
- Bryan McCormack, Attorney at McCormack Law Firm

California Employers And Labor Union Requirements

A California employer reading the Labor Union RequirementsIn California, employers are prohibited from discriminating against or dismissing workers for deciding to join a labor union.

Private employers can choose whether they require employees to join a labor union or pay union dues. These requirements may differ per company.

This is permitted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which allows employers and unions to enter into union-security agreements, mandating that all employees in a bargaining unit become union members and start paying union dues [4].

However, California's public employers have different restrictions regarding union membership and dues payment requirements.

Public employers cannot require union membership or dues payment in this case.

Related Article: Wrongful Termination in California

Private Employers

A private employer hiring new employeesIn California, private employers have the legal right to make it mandatory for their workers to either become union members or pay union fees as a prerequisite for their job. 

This is permissible under the NLRA, which permits employers and unions to sign union-security agreements. These agreements obligate all employees within a bargaining unit to become unionized and begin paying the associated union fees.

Union workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement establishing a "just cause" standard for termination.

Related Article: What is California’s New Mandatory Overtime Law for 2023?

Public Employers

Public employers in California are subject to different rules regarding union requirements. They must maintain neutrality and allow their at-will employee to exercise their statutory rights without prejudice.

Employees who have written employment contracts requiring "good cause" as a requirement for termination.

Paycheck Protection Regulations

The "Paycheck Protection" initiative, Proposition 32, sought to prohibit unions from using payroll deductions for political contributions in California.

The initiative failed to become part of California employment law, with 56.6 percent of voters rejecting it, as opposed to 43.4 percent in favor.

Related Article: What Is Job Abandonment?

How Is Right To Work Different From At-Will Employment?

A person who passed the job interview"Right to Work" and "At-Will Employment" are two distinct concepts in employment law. The main difference between these concepts is that Right to Work laws relate to union membership.

In contrast, At-Will Employment relates to the circumstances under which an employer can terminate an employee.

"At-Will Employment" also refers to an employer's ability to end an employee's employment for any legal reason and at any given moment.

Employees are free to leave their job without any legal consequences. Discrimination or unlawful reasons cannot be used as a basis for termination.

An "At-Will Employment State" is a state in the United States where the default employment relationship is at-will, meaning that employers can terminate their employees for any reason that is not illegal or discriminatory.

An At-Will Employee operating in an at-will employment state can quit at any time for any reason.

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Can I Sue For Wrongful Termination If I Was Forced To Quit My Job?

Yes, you can sue for wrongful termination if you were forced to quit your job. However, you prove that your resignation resulted from illegal discrimination, harassment, or other unlawful causes. 

What Are The Three Rights Workers Have In California?

The three rights workers have in California are the right to receive minimum wage, overtime pay, and meal and rest breaks.

Talk To An Attorney Today

Navigating California's employment law can be complex, especially when understanding the balance between employee rights and union interests and the implications of right-to-work laws and at-will termination.

To ensure you understand these important issues, consult with an experienced labor attorney, such as Schmidt & Clark, LLP.

Our experienced labor attorneys can provide you with the legal expertise, case evaluation, representation, and protection against retaliation to navigate California's complex employment law landscape and achieve the best possible outcome for your case.