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What is at-will employment?

Employees in New York are generally categorized as at-will employees. This means that a person can be hired or fired for any reason. However, there are some important exceptions to at-will employment of which employees across the state should be aware.

For example, an employer cannot fire someone for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons. Unfortunately, these can be very difficult situations to understand, as employers typically don't come right out and state that a person is being fired for being a certain religion or because he or she reported a safety violation at the company. But there are ways to spot a violation of an employee's rights.

A discriminatory firing could involve an employer needing to terminate a manager due to budget constraints. Rather than basing the decision on factors like compensation, performance and other job-related elements, the employer decides to fire the one female manager for seemingly no reason at all. This would suggest discrimination.

A retaliatory filing is also unlawful. Unlike discrimination, it is based on the actions of an employee. Employees have the right to engage in protected actions like reporting fraud, filing a complaint or reporting unsafe conditions in the workplace. Employers cannot fire or otherwise penalize a worker for doing any of these things.

This might all sound fairly straightforward, but the truth is that identifying discrimination and/or retaliation isn't always this easy when it comes to at-will employment decisions. Further, it is not unusual to feel like you have been unfairly fired when you are not convinced the decision was justified. But this may not mean your rights were violated.

In order to determine if there are grounds for legal action based on discrimination or retaliation, it can be crucial to examine your situation with an attorney who can assess it from the legal perspective. Failure to at least consult a lawyer in light of a troubling termination could prove to be a costly mistake.

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