Sometimes when you contact us you say that you were wrongfully terminated. You have tried to do a good job at work, but your employer has not treated you fairly. You feel you have been subject to wrongful termination. You are upset. You are not sure what law your employer may have violated, but there is no question that you have been treated badly.
New York State is a employment at-will state, and New York City is an employment at-will city. This means that an employer has a lot of discretion. The employer can do bad things, but there may not be a legal remedy. The conduct may be morally wrong, yet there would be no recourse in the courts of New York State or New York City. That is why we need to ask you questions to find out if your wrongful termination was not only immoral and unfair. We need to find out whether your employer actually violated employment law when you were wrongfully terminated.
In New York, because of the employment at-will doctrine, you can be fired without warning, even if you have been treated unfairly. Courts will simply not review whether your employer has acted unfairly or immorally, and will dismiss your case.
The justification of the at-will doctrine is that you are free to leave your employer without giving a reason, so the employer should be able to let you go without giving a reason. This thinking ignores the fact that you will be on the street if the employer unfairly fires you, but the employer can just replace you with another employee. It is also based on the fiction that the employee could have negotiated a just cause firing contract. In reality, the employer has unequal bargaining power and no one except union members or high level employees ever has the opportunity to protect themselves by an enforceable contract. Any employer who has an employment handbook will have a boilerplate provision where you acknowledge that you are an at-will employee.
There are important exceptions to the at-will doctrine which will give you a claim for wrongful termination. If you belong to a union or are a tenured civil servant under civil service law, you cannot generally be fired without warning and without just cause. This is because unions negotiate collective bargain agreements, which take you out of the employment at-will category. Some high level employees are able to negotiate contracts which have similar provisions.
Thankfully, there are statutory protections which apply to almost all employees. Thus, you may have claims for wrongful termination if your employer’s conduct runs afoul of various employment law statutes. The at-will doctrine has been limited by the various statutes which protect employees from discrimination against certain protected categories and for unlawful denial of wages and benefits. You also cannot be subjected to retaliation if you complain that your employment has violated employment statutes.
In more than 25 years of experience in employment law, we have spoken with employees working in New York State and New York City who have told us they have been subjected to wrongful termination. We sympathize with your distress, and try to help you. We ask you questions to find out what law your employer may have violated in causing your distress, since we can definitely give you legal help if the bad conduct of the employer was in violation of law.