Sometimes an employment contract can be a double-edged sword. Although it may provide you with a degree of security it may also take away rights normally enjoyed. The law of employment contracts in California tends to follow certain general principles, although there are also exceptions and quirks that will depend on the context of each particular fact situation.
An employer may follow up a successful interview with an offer letter. In it the employer sets forth the employment terms. This is an important document to retain - it may include important rights or define benefits promised. You may need it if there's a later employment contract dispute.
If the letter says the job is 'at will,' the employer can generally terminate the employee at any time for any reason. An employee not covered by a union or a written employment contract is under the at-will rule. However, the employer cannot terminate for discriminatory reasons prohibited by state or federal law. If you suspect discrimination, consult with employment law counsel immediately to learn the most prudent way to proceed.
If the letter specifies a time certain, such as two or three years, for the employment term, you cannot be fired except for reasonable cause. The offer letter should give the details of the pay, bonuses, commissions and similar terms of employment. Fringe benefits and other employment securities and protections can be mentioned.
The employment offer can limit your rights. It might contain a non-compete clause preventing you from competing within geographical boundaries and for a specified time after cessation of employment. If it's for too long a period or has too wide a scope, it may be unduly burdensome and unenforceable. You can determine its enforceability by consulting with an experienced employment law counsel.
In California, employment contracts law will govern the legal consequences of the offer letter. Negotiating may be like walking on eggshells. If you're too aggressive, you may be weakening your position unnecessarily. On the other hand, if you're being hired in a top executive position, or there are special reasons why the company needs you, then you're bargaining power is greater. In all situations, you'd be well advised to have employment counsel to guide you.
Source: Forbes, "10 Terms To Look For In Job Offer Letters," Susan Adams, June 4, 2013