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At-will employment and wrongful termination

On Behalf of | Apr 25, 2023 | Employee Rights, Wrongful Termination |

In most cases, New York employers have much discretion when it comes to the hiring and firing of employees. That said, the reason an employer chooses to fire an employee may be important.

An employer can fire an employee for any legal reason. If the reason is prohibited by law, however, this could be grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Understanding wrongful termination

In simple terms, a wrongful termination is when an employer carries out an unlawful firing of a worker. This occurs when there has been a breach of an employment contract or a violation of state or federal laws. However, most terminations are not illegal or wrongful.

The most common form of employment is known as at-will employment, which means that an employee can quit whenever they want and can also be fired at the will of the employer. To carry out this termination, the employer doesn’t necessarily need a good reason, and they are not required to provide a warning.

Employers might fire an employee for being consistently late, not showing up for work or violating company policy. They might even fire them for no reason at all. These reasons would not constitute a wrongful termination.

It’s a different story if the motive for the termination violates a contract or a state or federal law. For example, if an employee was fired for a protected characteristic such as gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, religion or race, this would violate federal civil rights law and constitute a wrongful termination. Likewise, if an employer fires an employee in retaliation for the employee’s reporting of unsafe working conditions, the termination likely violates whistleblower protection laws.

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, it is possible to take legal action. Filing a wrongful termination action not only helps establish the wrongdoing of the employer but also assists with the recovery of compensation for losses and damages suffered. You could be entitled to back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and even punitive damages.