New York is an at-will state, meaning that, but for one of the exceptions, all employees are considered “at-will” employees. This means that an employee can be fired without warning at any time for any reason or no reason at all. Unfortunately, the employer’s reason for terminating an at-will employee can seem unfair, unethical, or even immoral, but could still be deemed lawful.
New york is an employment at-will state. However, when it comes to NYS labor laws and termination, there are exceptions to the general doctrine of at-will employment and terminated employees. There are laws prohibiting termination that are illegal under both federal and state law.
Under NYC union contracts, at-will employment may not apply. One of the great benefits of being a union member is that termination must be for certain reasons. Accordingly, the union contract may specify the reasons in which a termination of an employee may occur. This is often referred to as “for-cause.” The opposite, or for “non-cause” reasons, such as being laid off simply because the employer feels like laying off an employee may be insufficient as the basis for a termination. Accordingly, if a person is terminated by their employer and a union contract exists, whether they are a union member or not, that person should consult with a union representative first.
Oftentimes, even if there is cause, there may be a process involved before that person can finally be terminated. This may include a written notice or notice to employees and then an investigation before final termination may occur. So rather than just a straight termination, the employer may have to abide by a process in which the employee must go through a series of steps first before they are finally terminated. This is different from at-will employment, in which there is generally no process or steps taken. As such, it would behoove an employee to talk with an employment law attorney to first review any union contract, even if it is for informational purposes only, to determine if termination was proper.
If the employee has a NYC employee handbook, then at-will employment may not apply in an employment relationship. As with a union contract, an employee handbook/manual often outlines specific reasons and procedures before termination can take place. For instance, the handbook may detail that the employee be given a written warning first or be given some sort of investigation or procedure before they are actually deemed terminated. Moreover, in New York, employee handbooks/manuals have been known to be viewed by the New York Department of Labor as written contracts between the employee and employer.
Accordingly, if the employer does not adhere to the steps or protocol outlined in the handbook or manual, the employer could be deemed as having breached its contract with the employee. If this occurs, the employee may have a claim or suit against their employer for breach of contract. Again, this is different from at-will employment, in which there is generally no process or steps taken. So, if the employee does have an employee handbook or manual and are terminated, they should consult with an employment law attorney immediately to review your individual circumstances of what happened and to review any handbook or manual to determine if the employer breached its contract with the employee.
Can an employer fire or discriminate against an employee based on political beliefs? If you thought that the first amendment provides protection, you’d be wrong. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that, for many employees, the answer is yes. Federal law does not protect private employees from discrimination based on their politics. However, New York labor law does prohibit an employer from terminating or discriminating against employees for participating in politics outside of the workplace.
Furthermore, employees who work for the state or government, or state employees, are protected from discrimination or termination based on their political beliefs or actions. Accordingly, if the employee is terminated due to their political participation or affiliation, that may be illegal as termination based upon political participation may be an exception to at-will employment. In such circumstances, it is best to discuss your facts with an employment law attorney who can analyze your facts and make a determination if you have a strong claim.
If the employee was terminated on the basis of retaliation due to the fact that they were a whistleblower, then at-will employment may not apply when it comes to personnel action. The whistleblower protection act protects employees from making a complaint, instituting a proceeding, or testifying at a proceeding concerning a violation of New York’s labor laws, including the state’s occupational safety and health laws. N.Y. Lab. Law § 215.
According to the protection act of 1989, in order for this protection to apply, the violation committed by the employer must have actually occurred. The whistleblower protection does not apply to an employee who only mistakenly thought that the employer had committed a violation, even if the belief was reasonable and in good faith. Whistleblower application can be tricky, so it is important to consult with an experienced New York employment lawyer to discuss your rights and options when it comes to the identity of whistleblower and whistleblower retaliation.
If the employee was terminated because they did not show up to work due to jury duty obligations, then at-will employment may not apply. New York encourages its citizens to perform their civic duty and attend jury duty if they are called upon. Accordingly, New York has laws in place protecting employees from being terminated or discriminated against if their employer retaliates against them for being absent due to having to be on jury duty. If this happens to you, you need to consult with an experienced employment law attorney right away.
In New York, when it comes to workers’ employers, it is illegal to terminate somebody based solely on their physical or mental disability. This is illegal employment discrimination. Accordingly, if an employee has a workers compensation claim, are receiving workers comp benefits, and they are terminated based upon that claim in retaliation for filing a workers compensation claim, being injured, or even talk with an attorney, all of these can be viewed as violating New York laws.
This means that if an employee has a workers compensation claim and suddenly find themselves being terminated by their employer, they should contact an employment law attorney right away.
According to both federal and New York City human rights law, the law prohibits discrimination making it illegal to terminate or discriminate against an employee on the basis of certain “suspect” classes. These laws against discrimination in the workplace include discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and disability.
The most common of these classes are race and gender. In these types of circumstances, at-will employment does not apply, and in the above cases, the employee should talk with an employment law attorney that practices NYC human rights law right away to discuss their options. As with many cases, these types of cases are very fact-specific, and so a good employment law attorney will be able to analyze the facts and apply them to the law.
A wrongful or illegal termination occurs if the termination violates one of the laws that protect New York employees or breaches an existing employment agreement. Although New York is an at-will state, employees still have the right to be protected against the breach of any oral or written contractual agreement between the employer and employee, as well as protection against any illegal acts by the employer.
For example, an otherwise legal termination would be unlawful if:
The above examples dealt with an “at-will” employment status. Some employees are hired under an employment contract that provides the terms and conditions of their employment. Sometimes, employees hired under a contract may not be considered “at-will” and might only be subject to termination according to the terms and conditions of the contract. For example, some employment agreements will state that the employee can only be fired “for cause” during the duration of his or her employment.
Other employment agreements might mandate that the employee be given proper notice before termination. In such cases, firing the employee without warning or notice would be a breach of contract and would give the employee a legal claim. Where an employment contract contains a term of employment for an indefinite period of time, it is presumed to be an employment at-will that is freely terminable by either party at any time for any reason or even for no reason. We encourage you to contact an employment rights attorney if you feel that your termination might be illegal or in breach of your employment agreement.
In New York State, employees can recover statutory damages resulting from an unlawful discriminatory/retaliatory termination, or contractual remedies resulting from a breach of contract. Statutory remedies such as lost wages, punitive damages, liquidated damages, compensation for emotional distress, attorneys’ fees, and costs can be recovered under certain laws.
For example, an employee fired due to a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) is entitled to recover and suing for unpaid wages, liquidated damages (twice the amount of lost wages) as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. Likewise, the New York City Human Rights Law provides employees with the right to collect lost wages, compensation for emotional distress, attorneys’ fees, and costs, as well as unlimited punitive damages for any form of employment discrimination, including sexual harassment.
An important thing to remember is that all employees have a duty to mitigate their damages even if the employees were wrongfully fired. This means that all employees have the responsibility to make good faith efforts to seek new employment and find another job. Employees should always document the steps they have taken during the job search so there is evidence that the employees satisfied their obligation to mitigate their damages. This is important because the employee may be entitled to the difference between his or her old salary and the new one.
As stated above, all employees in New York are automatically deemed to be employees at-will, unless otherwise agreed. Many employers nonetheless take steps to ensure that the at-will nature of the employment relationship is clearly established and agreed-to by all parties. This is typically spelled out in employment applications, contracts, and employee policy and procedure manuals. The policy may label it as “at-will employment” or may simply state that employees can be terminated at any time without cause or for any reason.
Thus, just because you are presented with an employment agreement, this in no way means that you are not an at-will employee. Before signing the agreement, review it to determine whether it contains any exception to the at-will employment doctrine, and if not, make sure that you understand that you can be terminated at any time for any reason.
If your employer makes some verbal promise to you whereby the employer agrees to employ you for a certain amount of time or tells you that you can only be terminated for specific enumerated reasons, ask that it be reduced to writing. If you have any questions about your employment agreement or at-will employment in general, please call the experienced employment lawyers at The Law Office of Yuriy Moshes, P.C.
While there is no such legal claim as “wrongful termination” in New York, there are actually many employment and labor laws that an employer can violate when terminating an at-will employee. For example, just because you are an “at-will” employee, this doesn’t give your employer the right to fire you for any reason – particularly if they run afoul of state or federal anti-discrimination or anti-retaliation laws.
As discussed above, state and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on several categories, including but not limited to, race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability discrimination in NYC, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. If your employer has terminated your employment due to a discriminatory reason, you can bring a legal claim against the employer.
Most terminated employees leave in a hurry. If an employee is leaving, they need to make sure all of their ducks are in row first and review their employee termination checklist or New York employee termination checklist.
Accordingly, if the employer offers you something in exchange for signing such an agreement and leaving the company, have an experienced employment law attorney first review those documents to see if that are even enforceable, and then if they are, whether signing such documents would be beneficial to you.
Just because you are terminated by your employer does not mean that everything is said and done. Although New York and NYC is employment at-will, an employee does have certain rights. If the employee was terminated on the basis of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or disability, then that employee may have a claim against their employer for wrongful termination. Furthermore, if that employee was a union member or had an employee handbook / manual, that document could be legally interpreted as a written contract between the employee and employer, and the employer may then be in violation for breach of contract.
A qualified employment law attorney from the Law Office of Yuriy Moshes can provide you a free consultation about your rights and how strong a case you may have. Their law offices help wrongfully terminated employees in the New York City area including all its boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island) as well as Northern New Jersey, Long Island, and Upstate New York.