Unlawful Firings and Employment At-Will
Author: Josh Gittleman
Uploaded: Friday, November 19, 2021, 10:07 AM
Last Edited: Friday, November 19, 2021, 10:10 AM
A person may believe that performing well and being loyal to an employer must be rewarded with job security. However, the truth is that most employees are employees at-will.
So what does it mean to be an employee at-will? Generally, at-will employment is an employer’s ability to fire an employee for any reason and without warning, as long as the reason is not illegal. Fortunately, there are illegal reasons for termination (e.g., firing because of the employee’s race, religion, or sexuality).
In effect, an employer may legally terminate an employee for countless reasons without violating the law. For example, an employer may terminate an employee based solely on a supervisor’s opinion that the employee has been “disrespectful.” Thus, the employer’s termination is likely lawful even if the employee had good reason to act disrespectfully.
In New York, the “at-will” doctrine governs most employment relationships. This often means that unless the employee has a contract with the employer that provides a specific term of employment or allows termination for cause only, the employment is at-will. Typically, U.S. companies negotiate individual employment agreements only with high-level executive employees.
However, there are, as noted above, certain situations where the firing of an at-will employee is unlawful, i.e., there is a legally significant difference between a supervisor just acting rude versus a supervisor acting discriminatory based on race in a rude manner. Below are some examples of unlawful categories of discrimination in New York City:
- The New York City Human Rights Law (Title 8 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York) prohibits discrimination in New York City, in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Protected classes in these areas are noted below. The New York City Human Rights Law also protects against discriminatory lending practices, retaliation, discriminatory harassment, and bias-based profiling by law enforcement:
- Immigration or citizenship status
- Gender (including sexual harassment)
- Gender Identity
- Marital status and partnership status
- National origin
- Pregnancy and Lactation Accommodations
- Sexual orientation
- Status as a Veteran or Active Military Service Member
- Retaliation is another statute-based exception to the at-will presumption. Federal and/or state laws prohibit employers from firing employees in retaliation for engaging in legally proper, necessary, or desirable activities. Examples of protected activities include claiming minimum wage or overtime compensation, engaging in union activities, opposing unlawful discriminatory practices, filing for workers’ compensation, and “whistleblowing.”
When an employee loses a job, especially after years of quality performance, it can be devastating. The loss of a job is not only an economic catastrophe but may also be an emotional disaster.
If you believe you have been unlawfully terminated, contact our office so we can review your evidence and outline actionable steps to protect your legal rights.