What are “just cause” protections and do they apply to me?
In every U.S. state, an employer can generally fire an employee at will, meaning that they do not require a specific cause in order to terminate someone. However, this has resulted in a manifestly unequal balance of power in U.S. workplaces – most of the time, when an employee is fired from their job, they have no real recourse to try and get it back. New York City, however, has made major strides in equalizing the proverbial playing field for workers, and the latest foray into doing so was just passed – “just cause” provisions for fast food workers in the city.
Fast Food Workers Are Vulnerable
In general, fast food workers occupy an extremely precarious place in the workforce, with data from the Center for Popular Democracy showing that half of survey respondents in New York had been fired or ‘compelled to quit’ a fast food job due to “intolerable” working conditions, while roughly two-thirds of those who were fired from a fast food job in the previous year received no explanation of any kind for why it was happening. While at-will employment is the norm in the United States, it is clear and obvious that it can cause serious harm to some of the most powerless members of the workforce.
“Just cause” provisions prohibit employers from firing employees without good cause (such as misconduct or demonstrably poor performance. New York’s just cause provisions were signed into law in mid-December 2020, intended, at least in the short term, to protect fast food workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they have been pushed to continue working despite the increased risk of illness. The measure was originally introduced in 2019, but was not passed until 2020 due to significant lobbying from the restaurant industry.
As of this writing, New York has not enacted any other type of “just cause” protections, though the case can be made that they should. Because of this, if you are fired in New York City, you may not have very much recourse unless you are able to establish that you were terminated due to a protected characteristic, such as race, sex/gender, or religion. If you have reason to suspect that your employer did act against you due to one or more of these characteristics, you may be able to file a charge against them.
Depending on the characteristic at issue, you would file your charge either with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or with the New York City Law Enforcement Bureau at the City Commission on Human Rights. The New York City Human Rights Law covers more characteristics than federal antidiscrimination law, so if, say, you believe your employer terminated you based on your status as a victim of domestic violence, you would file your charge under the NYCHRL, since that is not a protected characteristic under federal antidiscrimination law.
Call A New York City Employment Discrimination Attorney
While it remains to be seen whether more groups of workers in New York will get “just cause” protection, it is important that you understand what your options are in the meantime. Contacting a New York City employment discrimination attorney at Mansell Law, LLC may help you decide how to proceed if you have been terminated without justification. Call our offices today at 646-921-8900 to schedule a consultation.