In New York, an employer may fire an employee for any reason or even no reason at all. This is the “at-will” employment relationship which makes wrongful termination so rare in New York. Additionally, since employment is “at-will”, the employer is free to change the terms of the relationship without any notice. This means that the employer can potentially take away an employee’s paid time off, wages, or benefits. Similarly, such employees are also free to leave their jobs at any time.
There are laws currently in place that guarantee protection for an employee. For instance, an employer cannot fire you for discriminatory reasons. These reasons include any of the following: race, sex, color, religion, age, disabilities, national origin, and veteran status. The New York State Division of Human Rights offers protection for any employee terminated as a result of discrimination. However, certain things do give an employer the right to terminate, namely stealing from the business, engaging in sexual harassment, excessive absences or lateness, physical violence or poor job performance. An employer is also unable to fire an employee for being a “whistleblower.” For example, if an employee notices wrongdoing in the workplace, the employer cannot use his or her job security as leverage for silence. This is known as retaliation, and it is not allowed.
Wrongful vs. Unfair
It is important to note the difference between wrongful and unfair terminations. A wrongful termination is one that is illegal. This could mean a contract was broken or that you were targeted on a discriminatory basis. Furthermore, while it may be unfair, you can be fired for misunderstandings. For example, your employer can say that you were late to work even if you were not, and unfortunately, this is legal. Even if you have loyally been with a company for years, helped their business grow and feel you deserve more than to be discharged, they still have the right to terminate your employment.
Protection and Understanding Your Rights
As aforementioned, there is a difference between being let go and being unlawfully terminated and the state of New York has numerous laws for employee protection. If one of these laws is broken, wrongful termination has occurred. Essentially, if you were fired because of something that was not mentioned in your employment contract or discriminatory actions were involved, you are a victim of wrongful termination.
There are a number of reasons for firing someone that would make the act unlawful, especially in cases of retaliation. For instance, section 215 of the New York Labor Law states that employers cannot penalize you if you report them for a violation. Similarly, you cannot be for reporting federal law violations. Additionally, as long as it is legal, you have the right to participate in anything recreationally or politically. NY Labor Law sec. 201-d states that your participation in such activities cannot get you fired. Likewise, according to the Workers’ Compensation Law as stated in Sec. 10-35, filing for a Disability Benefits claim, filing for Worker’s Compensation, or testifying in front of the Board are not acceptable reasons to fire someone. If you are a military spouse, you are entitled to 10 unpaid days of leave to visit your spouse during deployment. New York State also has other protected leaves, for employers with more than 20 workers, with reasons that include domestic violence, blood and bone marrow donations and more.
As an employee, you also have the right to receive outstanding wages by the date that would have been your next payday. You are also allowed to ask your ex-employer to mail you your last check. Additionally, it is important to note that you cannot be fired for having jury duty or for requesting unpaid sick days. Regarding sick days, the law can protect you as well. As an employee and according to Federal law, it is your right to ask for sick days for a serious illness without facing termination or discrimination. While you are not guaranteed sick days and can be fired if you begin taking too many, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and New York State Human Rights Law may both have your back when you need to take time off. Sick days are not guaranteed to you by law and you could face discharge if your employer suspects you are abusing them. A doctor’s note and a legitimate, serious illness cannot get you fired. Termination for asking for time off for the above reasons is illegal and you can file a complaint or contact Attorney General, Labor Bureau if you suspect you have become a victim of this. It is important to become aware of your rights to avoid being taken advantage of at work or being unlawfully discharged.
You Can Fight the Termination
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. was a court case that surfaced in 2006 when Lilly Ledbetter alleged that after 19 faithful years to the Goodyear Tire company, she was facing gender discrimination. She argued that she was continually receiving low salary raises and performance reviews that did not reflect her work ethic and that were significantly below her less deserving, male coworkers. Ledbetter contested that her gender was the cause of her low salary and that according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she was being unlawfully treated on the basis of sex. Ledbetter was initially awarded $3.5 million by the jury, though it was later reduced by the judge to $360,000. However, the decision of the lower court was reversed. Ledbetter’s claim for discriminatory actions regarding only the past 180 days was examined. With a 5-4 vote and the conclusion of the Circuit Court, it was found that no discrimination had occurred. Though Ledbetter’s claim fell short because of a time statue, the case serves as an example of a course of action that can be taken if you feel you have been wronged by an employer and the potential compensation that you could receive.
What You Can Do
If you are a victim of unlawful termination in New York, you have the right to recover income that you have missed out on. Some laws will even allow you to be compensated for legal fees, emotional distress and more. If your firing violated the Family Medical Leave Act, you are entitled to receive the same, in addition to double the amount you lost as a result of the termination. Furthermore, “ the New York City Human Rights Law provides employees with the right to collect unlimited punitive damages for any form of employment discrimination or sexual harassment.”
Protesting your unlawful termination must be done in a reasonable manner. For instance, protesting your ex-employer in a way that poses a disturbance to them is not justifiable. Therefore, it is recommended to instead handle the situation peacefully by taking it to court or by filing a complaint with the Labor Law or Federal Law jurisdictions.
Getting fired can be embarrassing, burdensome, and in some cases not even justifiable. If you feel your termination was an unlawful one, or if you have been performing your job diligently, yet feel that your job is on the line or that the employer is treating you unfairly, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at 718- 333-2394 to speak to an experienced employment law attorney that can assist you in protecting your rights.