At Will, Not Anything Goes

Posted in Miscellaneous on May 4, 2015

Employee Employer ChaosNew York is an “at will” employment state.  What that means is in most cases an employer can fire an employee at any time, without notice, for no reason at all.  An employee in New York who tries to bring a lawsuit arguing that their termination “wasn’t fair” because they were fired for no reason will quickly have their case dismissed.

At-will employment has developed a reputation as being entirely biased in favor of the employer.  This is a misconception.  Yes, employment at will gives the employer the power to fire without cause, and sometimes that leads to unfair results.  However, it also gives the employee the freedom to leave employment at any time, without notice – which is an important freedom for employees.  Thus, if you get a better offer, you can take it free from legal liability.  In this way, it is a trade-off.

Employment at will means the employer does not need cause to fire you, but it does not mean employees are completely without protection from wrongful terminations.  The following are a few common restrictions on an employer’s right to terminate an employee

Employment Contract

Employment at will is the default rule, but employers and employees are still free to enter into contracts that restrict the employer’s right to fire or the employee’s right to leave during a given period.  However, an employment contract alone is not enough; it must contain a concrete term, or period of time.

Whistleblower Protections

A whistleblower is an individual who comes forward regarding illegal or dangerous conduct by a company or one of its employees.  Oftentimes the information the whistleblower comes forward with is important to protecting the safety and well-being of employees.  For example, a whistleblower may bring information about OSHA violations to light that put employees at risk of serious injury or death.  When the regulatory authorities become aware of that complaint, they can investigate and ensure that it is fixed, thereby protecting employees.

There are many New York and federal laws that protect whistleblowers from being terminated in retaliation for their disclosure.  Reporting health and safety violations, illegal trading, discrimination or harassment are a few of the types of situations where whistleblowers are protected.

Discrimination

Much of the work that we do at Joseph & Norinsberg involves employees that have unfairly and illegally been discriminated against by their current or prospective employers.  Even in an at-will employment state like New York, employers cannot terminate employees because of their religion, sexual orientation, race, origin, gender, or marital status.  Federal and New York state laws protect employees from this type of unethical conduct.

Workers’ Compensation Claims

Employees are sometimes reluctant to report an on-the-job injury for fear that they will be fired for causing an increase in their employer’s insurance premiums.  Sadly, this does happen on occasion, and employees have options if it does.  Employers cannot fire employees for making workers’ compensation claims.

Permissible or Impermissible Termination?

If you have been terminated for one of these reasons or another reason that feels unjust or unfair, contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Joseph & Norinsberg at  (212) JUSTICE or e-mail us at info@employeejustice.com.  We can analyze your case to determine whether you have been subject to a wrongful termination with legal remedies.

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