Job security is extremely important for most workers, including those in New York, especially during economic turmoil, such as that seen over the last several years. Unfortunately, New York's employment-at-will laws offer little protection for many workers.
What does "employment-at-will" mean? The term means that an employer has the right to terminate a worker from his or her job at any time and for any reason. While this gives employers considerable say in who they employ, it also protects workers by allowing them to resign or quit a job at any time without explaining or defending their decision to quit.
When an employer exercises at-will termination, can a worker still receive a final paycheck? Yes. At termination, the employer is required to pay the worker for services rendered. The employee should be paid according to the regular pay schedule and the period of work done.
Does at-will employment make wrongful termination obsolete? No. Employers can still be held for wrongful termination if they fail to adhere to certain federal and state labor laws, especially laws prohibiting termination based on discrimination using race, age, creed, national origin, disability, marital status, gender or sexual orientation. In addition, employers cannot terminate workers based on the workers' personal or recreational activities outside of work or for being a member of a union.
Employees who have differing political views are also protected from termination based solely on those views. Employers are also prohibited by law from firing employees in retaliation for filing workplace-related complaints or reporting labor or safety violations or illegal activities.
What if an employee's firing seems suspicious? If a New York worker suspects that his or her termination is unlawful, then the best course of action is to seek the assistance of an employment law specialist to determine his or her legal rights.
Source: Labor.NY.gov, "Wage and Hours: Frequently Asked Questions," accessed on Oct. 21, 2014