What Rights Do I have As An “At-Will” Employee?
While it may be unpleasant to hear, it is a truism that most employees in New York, and indeed in the entire United States, are “at-will” employees. This means that those employees, lacking a valid employment contract, are at risk of termination at any point, for any legal or ethical reason. If you are an at-will employee, however, this does not mean that you have no options to seek redress under New York laws. Each situation is different, and contacting an attorney on the topic is a good idea.
Workers Have Little Protection
Any instance where a term of employment is for an “indefinite term” under New York law will fall under the “at-will” status. If an employee gets a job for a specific length of time, that kind of job will generally require a written contract, which by definition is not “indefinite.” Little has changed about the at-will employment rule since its development in 1895, though there have been several attempts to modernize the rule to help provide more protections to workers.
Because the at-will rule has changed so little since 1895, workers very often have little recourse against their employers if they are summarily terminated. In theory, employers may terminate employees for any (legal) reason, but employees also have the power to leave their job at any time, without notice. This may have established equal bargaining power at some point, but no longer; recent statistics cited by the Washington Post show that while profits rose 16 percent in 2018, but average wage earnings only rose 2.5 percent.
There are three exceptions to the at-will rule in New York. This means that there are three main instances in which an at-will termination may still be actionable, though the majority of them are considered acceptable. The obvious one is if you are fired for a discriminatory reason; New York CIty, state, and federal law all allow a person who has been mistreated on the basis of certain characteristics – for example, race/color, sex/gender, age, disability, or national origin – to file suit under the relevant antidiscrimination law.
The other common reason for termination that is seen is in retaliation for a protected activity. There are several different descriptions of ‘protected activity’ – New York’s Human Rights Law defines these terms in an extremely wide manner, but it does specifically list a few examples: namely, reporting your employer’s illegal or unethical conduct, pursuing a harassment (or sexual harassment) claim, or filing a claim for workers’ compensation. Being terminated for any of these reasons gives you the right to seek redress.
Call A New York Employment Discrimination Lawyer
Unfortunately, most employees have very little protection against being terminated at will. However, if you have been terminated, and you suspect that it is because of an exceptional reason, consulting a NYC employment discrimination attorney from Mansell Law, LLC may help to shed some light on any questions you might have. Call our offices today at 646-921-8900 for a free consultation.