If your New York business hires employees in NY, then it is essential that you know what hiring someone as an employee “at will” in New York is and what rights and protections at-will employees are afforded under New York At-Will Employment Law.
New York is generally considered an “employment at will” state. This means that a private sector employer can hire and fire an employee at will (as the company pleases). The discharged NY employee will usually have little to no legal recourse and even when the firing is facially unreasonable. In short, the employee may be fired for any or even no reason (with the exceptions noted below).
Exceptions to General New York At-Will Employment Rule
- Union Contract
If the employee is a union member and employed under a union contract, then s/he is entitled to the protections written into the respective contract and/or collective bargaining agreement.
- Employee Handbook/Manual
If an employer distributes an employee manual or handbook containing rules and conditions under which an employee “at will” may be discharged or steps created that may precede discharge, then the employee may be afforded those rights outlined. An experienced employment attorney can advise you on any specific situation.
- Political Participation
If the employee was discharged because of his / her participation in a lawful political or recreational activity, the employee may have a claim for wrongful termination.
If an employee is fired for reporting a violation of law which creates and presents a specific danger to public health or safety, or is fired for refusing to participate in such an activity, then the employer may be exposed to a claim for back pay, reinstatement and attorney’s fees by the whistle-blowing employee.
- Jury Duty
Since attendance at jury duty is a civic obligation of all citizens, an employer who is notified in advance of a employee’s jury summons cannot fire that employee at will for that absence.
- Worker’s Compensation
An employer cannot fire an employee at will because s/he filed a Worker’s Compensation or claim for disability benefits. This is considered to be a retaliatory discharge of employment and is actionable.
- Human Rights Law/Discrimination Law
New York and Federal Law (EEOC) prohibits employers from firing an employee because of his or her race, religion, gender, place of national origin, age, marital status or disability. In New York City, employers cannot fire an employee based on sexual orientation, arrest or conviction, partnership status, and status as a victim of certain crimes.
The following grounds are, typically, the most commonly claimed employment alleged violations in most New York employment lawsuits. Outside of the above exceptions (and a few other related exceptions) New York employers are well within their rights to terminate an employee. But it is always advisable to consult with an employment attorney with knowledge of New York employment law if you and your business are unsure about your given situation, do not have a compliance program in place or had issues in the recent past.