“At-will” employment means you can quit your job when and why you want and, also, your employer can fire you when and why they want. At-will employment is the law across most of the U.S.
Still, the at-will rule has so many exceptions that job separation can be legally tricky. Compared to some other states, however, New York stays relatively true to the core idea of at-will employment.
New York is a strong at-will state
On a number of occasions, the state’s courts have reiterated that they don’t intend to allow very many exceptions to New York’s strong at-will employment principle. They leave creating exceptions to New York state legislators.
And in fact, Albany has set a variety of limitations on an absolute right of employers to fire employees. Those limitations do not include a reason for termination that’s stupid, morally wrong or unfair. Employers don’t even have to give any reason at all.
So, what are these limitations? Here are some categories of exceptions to “at-will” employment.
Termination for discriminatory reasons
In New York, you can’t be fired based on certain factors like your race, gender, age, sexual orientation, faith, national origin or disability, among others. You also can’t be hired, denied promotions, paid less or more, or treated differently from other employees or applicants based on these factors.
Enforced by the state Division of Human Rights, these rules generally overlap with similar prohibitions at federal, state, county, municipal and other levels. Such redundant, multi-level protections reinforce each other and provide multiple options for seeing that their spirit is upheld.
Termination for complaints, fun, voting or opinions
In certain cases, not just who you are but what you do and think are protected against being used to terminate your employment, especially if they’re done on your own time.
In New York, you generally have a right to join a union and do any political activities and recreation you want. You can also consume whatever products you want, if they’re legal for you to use. Discriminating against you for displaying the American flag is specifically prohibited.
You also generally can’t be fired for complaining to your employer or to the New York Department of Labor about anything in the state’s labor law.