Serrins Fisher LLP

New York law and the at-will employment rule

In our last post, we began looking at the topic of at-will employment. As we noted, every state except for Montana recognizes at-will employment as the general rule, though there are certainly exceptions to the rule under both statute and common law, in addition to the possibility of contractual modification of the rule.

Here in New York, the general approach is at-will employment, but there are various exceptions specific to the state of New York. Employees who have specific protections written into their employment contract are not subject to the default rules. It is important for employees to become familiar with any written materials they receive at the beginning of their employment, especially employee manuals, as these may contain terms and conditions of employment which may modify the at-will employment presumption. These documents do not, however, always modify the default rule and it is important to consult an attorney before concluding that they do.

Union members may be subject to at-will employment, but they are entitled to any termination protections contained in their union’s collective bargaining agreement. To know for sure what protections may exist, union members should consult their union representative.

Race, religion, gender, national origin, marital status, age, and disability may not be used as a basis for termination, as these are all protected classes. Employers in New York City are additionally prohibited from terminating an employee on the basis of his or her sexual orientation, partnership status, status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking and sex offenses, and conviction record.

Whistleblowers and those who exercise their rights under workers’ compensation law may not be discharged on that basis. Neither may termination be based on lawful political or recreational activities an employee pursues in his or her free time.

Those who feel they may have been subjected to illegal termination, whether on the basis of a contractual violation or the violation of statutory or common law protections, should consult an experienced attorney to have their case thoroughly evaluated. 

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