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I live in California and in I was hired at a restaurant in August 2023. During the interview, I submitted availability for Thursday- Saturday. I was hired. 2 months in, my availability changed to Thursday and Friday only. I submitted my request (and explanation) to close my Saturday availability due to

  • school (weekends needed to be left completely open for potential make-ups for cancelled clinicals during the week;
  • unpredictable if/when this will apply (COVID-19 outbreaks= students sometimes turned away from hospital rotations to limit unnecessary personnel/decrease spread);
  • decided to block my Saturday availability to avoid having to be in the predicament of being double booked at school and work).

The woman (who acts as the HR person for the restaurant) accepted my request and stated that coverage for my former Saturday shift will be covered moving forward. A few weeks later, the owner expresses frustration regarding people "not wanting" to work weekends. I know I'm one of the targeted individuals by statement. I feel that a scenario is coming where they will plan to let me go due to my limited availability. Also, in the last month, I have released a couple of shifts to some coworkers who were interested in an extra shift, while I was simultaneously interested in the relief of a shift. I mention this to paint the picture of possibly being perceived as someone who doesn't want/need to work, when that isn't the reality. The reality is I live the life of an extremely busy college student enrolled in a rigorous and depleting school program, so as you can imagine, I have to work the minimum in order to provide maximum investment that is required for a college education. In addition, I have not been late nor called out since starting.

My question here is can they legally fire me or give me an ultimatum of needing me to be available outside of what I am actually available, as well as after having already and approved my updated availability? If they are allowed to, would I be eligible for unemployment under these circumstances?

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    Is california at will? If so then you can be fired for very much any reason, unless its discriminatory. Having school wouldn't qualify
    – Aida Paul
    Oct 23, 2023 at 9:53
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    @TymoteuszPaul yes shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/… Oct 23, 2023 at 10:33
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    Can they fire you from a job in a restaurant in California for not working a shift when requested, probably, being unavailable isn’t a protected class.
    – Donald
    Oct 23, 2023 at 12:21
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    As is common, most of the backstory could be trimmed away to improve this question. All you, and we, really care about is "Can I be fired for not working assigned hours, even though I have a really good reason (school) for not being available during those hours?" ... As others have said, the answer is almost certainly yes; if they aren't willing or able to accommodate you, go hunting for an employer who can and will.
    – keshlam
    Oct 23, 2023 at 15:45

3 Answers 3

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My question here is can they legally fire me or give me an ultimatum of needing me to be available outside of what I am actually available

Yes, they can.

And it wouldn't be uncommon for a restaurant to require people to be available for at least one weekend shift, no matter what the woman operating in sort of an HR role thinks.

If they are allowed to, would I be eligible for unemployment under these circumstances?

Probably. Only the California Unemployment Office can make that determination. And only once you are fired.

You might be wise to look for other employment that can tolerate your limited availability.

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My question here is can they legally fire me or give me an ultimatum of needing me to be available outside of what I am actually available, as well as after having already and approved my updated availability?

There are two processes:

  • Accepting a change in status. You wanted modify your availability, and they accepted it.
  • Determining the staffing going forward.

A few weeks later, the owner expresses frustration regarding people "not wanting" to work weekends. I know I'm one of the targeted individuals by statement. I feel that a scenario is coming where they will plan to let me go due to my limited availability.

If they are hiving trouble finding workers for the weekend, they either have to entice people to switch to those work days, require people to work those days, or hire additional staff.

By reducing your availability you are risking being dropped from the schedule. If there is somebody who works Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; but is willing to switch to what was your Thursday, Friday, Saturday: all your hours could disappear. They would necessarily fire you, they could just zero your hours. The more restrictive your availability, the few hours you will get.

Also, in the last month, I have released a couple of shifts to some coworkers who were interested in an extra shift, while I was simultaneously interested in the relief of a shift.

While your shifts were covered many employees will view this demonstrating unreliability. In some places one missed shift can overshadow many extra shifts. I know you didn't miss the shift but the scheduler still notices.

My question here is can they legally fire me or give me an ultimatum of needing me to be available outside of what I am actually available, as well as after having already and approved my updated availability?

Saying you will only work days they have plenty of coverage will put your hours at risk.

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All California employment is at-will. A company doesn't need a reason to terminate your employment, and you can be let go at any time. Don't panic.

You can't control ultimately what happens with this job. You CAN do your best to "under-promise and overdeliver", and set expectations correctly. This latter part means doing as you agree to do. You are a student, and your school situation can change from session to session -- that's to be expected. Put a little more thought into what happens when you go from fall session to winter session or winter break, then spring, and summer. Help your employer be more prepared early on to accommodate you. This will make you, hopefully, a little more easier for the boss to work with than some of your coworkers.

You can also keep a ready list of who's hiring around town, because life happens

Good luck!

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