There are many situations in which a termination can be unlawful, but the place you should always start is that in New York State, an employee can be fired for any reason or even for no reason. I know, this can seem like a very scary prospect. Keep in mind though, there are exceptions to this “employment at will” rule. So when is it legal to be fired in NY?
It is illegal to be fired in NY if:
- Your termination violates an employment contract: If you are a managerial employee or have specific skills, often you will be presented with an employment contract when you are hired. The contract should state your salary schedule. or some reference to salary, and the terms under which it is legal to be fired. Most employment agreements state that your ‘employment is at will’, which means you can be fired for any reason or no reason. However, some omit that or specify that you can only be terminated for good cause or on specific grounds.
- Your employee contract contradicts the employer’s reason for firing you: Usually an employee manual will give performance expectations for your position. If you met these expectations but were fired anyway, it may not have been legal to be fired. Other times, manuals provide a specific process before an employee can be terminated. If you find yourself in a situation where you are being fired without the specific process being carried out, you may have grounds to sue. Be sure to read your employee manuals.
- When it is against federal anti-discrimination laws, the York State Human Rights Law or the New York City Human Rights Law: These laws protects employees from adverse employment actions based upon race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, marital status or disability. In short, if you feel that you have been fired due to discrimination, you should call an experienced employment lawyer, who will help you to file a claim with the appropriate federal, state or city agency. When the agency determines that it was not legal to be fired, damages will be reimbursed.
- When your Union contract is on your side: Union contracts are made specifically to protect, and help unionized workers, and if an union member is fired contrary to contractual conditions, that employee has the right to fight back. However, it is permissible and common for union members to seek outside counsel to represent them if they believe it was not legal to be fired.
- When your employer disagrees with your lawful political pursuits on your own time: If you are engaged in (lawful) political pursuits, recreational political activities that you take part in on your own time (not during work), and you believe that you have been fired for it, you may have a case. Contact an employment lawyer immediately.
- If you are a public employee, when your termination violates the Civil Service Law: Certain classes of public employees have vested rights to their positions granted by the Civil Service Law, Education Law or other New York law. Employees with such rights cannot be terminated except for just cause as determined by a hearing officer, after a full-blown hearing that includes sworn testimony, representation by counsel and the right to cross examine all witnesses, among other rights.
When is it legal to be fired?
NY is an ’Employment at Will’ state, and it is legal to be fired no matter how unreasonable the motive is, or even explaining why. That is, unless it is contrary to federal, state of city law, or is part of the above list. Unfortunately, the job the employee has belongs to the employer, not the employee.
A note to NY employers
It may not be wise (even if it is legal to be fired) to fire an employee without a valid reason. An employee may seek representation or file a complaint with a federal, state or city agency. Defending such claims cost the employer time and money. If you are an employer, you would be well-advised to seek counsel to device legal and fair methods of discharging employees, when necessary.
If you think that it was not legal that you were fired, call Joseph Carbonaro today for a free consultation at (212) 880-1535, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him here.