Is New York an At-Will Employment State?
When it comes to hiring and firing workers in New York, employers and employees alike have many questions about their rights. “At-will” means that an employee works “at the will of” the employer, and thus can be fired without cause. However, employees have many rights through laws and contracts that limit the ability of an employer to unfairly fire an employee.
The lawyers at Console Mattiacci Law represent employees who have been wrongfully treated in the workplace, including harassment situations and wrongful terminations.
State and federal laws protect employees in at-will employment states from being fired for discriminatory purposes. Federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protect employees from being terminated for belonging to or for being perceived as belonging to a protected class. Protected classes include sex, race, religion, national origin, color, disability and age. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also protects people with disabilities from being fired simply because they are disabled. The law requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to any person with disabilities so that they can then continue to perform their job duties.
Employees are also protected under these laws from being wrongfully fired, when the true reason is because they belong to a protected class or are believed to belong to a protected class.
For example, an employee may be terminated by their employer and the reason given is poor performance; however, if the employee can prove that the true reason was discrimination because of their gender or other protected class, they would have legal recourse against their employer for termination based on discrimination.
Employees in New York are also protected from termination based on retaliation for complaining about, or opposing, conduct prohibited by state and federal law. One common example of retaliation is when an employer terminates an employee after they complain of sexual harassment, age discrimination or other forms of discrimination or for filing a claim for workers’ compensation for a workplace injury.
Other protected actions include, but are not limited to, reasonable requests to accommodate a disability, wage and hour claims, discussion with fellow employees about the formation of a union, reporting the employer for illegal activity or regulatory infractions, and participating in an investigation against the employer.
In addition, employees are protected from retaliation for reporting or participating in other actions that may be detrimental to the employer. These include refusal to participate in illegal activity, reporting safety violations in the workplace, or being terminated for required public service such as jury duty or military reserve activities.
Express or Implied Employment Contracts
Express or implied employment contracts are also exceptions to the at-will employment rules in New York. An express employment contract lays out the terms and conditions of a person’s employment. This can include the length of time of employment, causes for termination, job requirements or responsibilities, and timelines for tasks or projects. The signing of an express employment contract means that the employer is no longer able to terminate the employee without cause and must only do so according to the terms spelled out in the employment contract.
Implied employment contracts can come from an employee manual or other documentation an employee is required to read or sign before beginning their employment. If an employee manual states or implies that an employee can only be fired for cause, it may supersede at-will employment rules for those employees and require the employer to only terminate for a viable cause.
Collective Bargaining Agreements
Labor unions often use collective bargaining agreements in negotiations with employers on behalf of their employees. Any employee that is covered by a collective bargaining agreement is no longer considered to be an at-will employee. Those employees must only be terminated for causes listed within the collective bargaining agreement and cannot be terminated at-will.
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