California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

2421. Breach of Employment Contract - Specified Term— Good Cause Defense

[Name of defendant] claims that [he/she/it] did not breach the employment contract because [he/she/it] [discharged/demoted] [name of plaintiff] for good cause. To establish good cause, [name of defendant] must prove:

[that [name of plaintiff] willfully breached a job duty] [or]

[that [name of plaintiff] continually neglected [his/her] job duties] [or]

[that a continued incapacity prevented [name of plaintiff] from performing [his/her] job duties.]

Directions for Use

This instruction should be given when the employee alleges wrongful discharge in breach of an employment contract for a specified term and the employer defends by asserting plaintiff was justifiably discharged.

This instruction may not be appropriate in the context of an employment contract where the parties have agreed to a particular meaning of "good cause" (e.g., a written employment agreement specifically defining "good cause" for discharge). If so, the instruction should be modified accordingly.

Modification of the third element may be necessary where the plaintiff has a statutory right to be absent for work (for example, for family and medical leave or to accommodate a disability).

Sources and Authority

Labor Code section 2922 provides: "An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other. Employment for a specified term means employment for a period of greater than one month."

Labor Code section 2924 provides: "An employment for a specified term may be terminated at any time by the employer in case of any willful breach of duty by the employee in the course of his mployment, or in case of his habitual neglect of his duty or continued incapacity to perform it."

"[L]abor Code section 2924 has traditionally been interpreted to 'inhibit[] the termination of employment for a specified term except in case of a wilful breach of duty, of habitual neglect of, or continued incapacity to perform, a duty.' " (Khajavi v. Feather River Anesthesia Medical Group (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 32, 57 [100 Cal.Rptr.2d 627], internal citations omitted.)

Labor Code section 2924 "does not grant a right to terminate prior to the end of the employee's term on the basis of a mistaken belief of a breach." (Khajavi, supra, 84 Cal.App.4th at pp. 58-59.)

Good cause in the context of wrongful termination based on an implied contract " 'is quite different from the standard applicable in determining the propriety of an employee's termination under a contract for a specified term.' " (Khajavi, supra, 84 Cal.App.4th at p. 58, internal citations omitted.)

"An employer is justified in discharging his employee, when the latter fails to perform his duty, even though injury does not result to the employer as a result of the employee's failure to do his duty." (Bank of America National Trust & Savings Ass'n v. Republic Productions, Inc. (1941) 44 Cal.App.2d 651, 654 [112 P.2d 972], internal citation omitted.)

"It is therefore not every deviation of the employee from the standard of performance sought by his employer that will justify a discharge. There must be some 'wilful act or wilful misconduct . . .' when the employee uses his best efforts to serve the interests of his employer." (Holtzendorff v. Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (1967) 250 Cal.App.2d 596, 610 [58 Cal.Rptr. 886], internal citation omitted.)

" 'Willful' disobedience of a specific, peremptory instruction of the master, if the instruction be reasonable and consistent with the contract, is a breach of duty—a breach of the contract of service; and, like any other breach of the contract, of itself entitles the master to renounce the contract of employment." (May v. New York Motion Picture Corp. (1920) 45 Cal.App. 396, 403 [187 P. 785].)

Secondary Sources

1 Wrongful Employment Termination Practice (Cont.Ed.Bar 2d ed. 1997) Contract Actions, § 8.20

21 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 249, Employment Law: Termination and Discipline, §§ 249.13, 249.21, 249.60-249.63 (Matthew Bender)

(New September 2003)