Almost everyone who gets fired feels that their employer was in the wrong for terminating their employment, but this is an instinctive emotional response, much like immediately exclaiming “It’s not fair!” when you lose at a game. The law delineates circumstances where your employer is justified in terminating employees, no matter how unhappy the employee might be about it, as well as circumstances where the employer truly is in the wrong for terminating the employment relationship. If your employer’s decision to fire you was in violation of laws related to employment discrimination or employer retaliation, you might have grounds for a lawsuit. To find out more, contact the New York City wrongful termination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Can At-Will Employees Sue Their New York City Employers for Wrongful Termination?
New York is an at-will employment state. This means that in New York, like in most other states, your employer can hire you on an at-will basis. Your employer might have informed you verbally during your job interview or job offer phone call that your employment is on an at-will basis, or this fact might have been stated in the employee handbook. If you did not sign an employment contract before beginning your job, you can safely assume that you are an at-will employee. At-will employment means that either party, the employer or the employee, has the right to end the employment relationship at any time. The employee can end the relationship for any reason, and the employer can end the relationship for almost any reason. If the employer’s reason for firing the employee was discriminatory or retaliatory in nature, then it is wrongful termination, and the employee has the right to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Employees who are employed under a contract enjoy even more robust protections against wrongful termination of employment. If your employer terminates your employment before the contract expires, your employer has breached the contract. Some employment contracts contain provisions for early termination, so your employer must abide by those provisions in your contract in order to avoid being liable in the event of a breach of contract lawsuit. It is still possible to sue your employer for wrongful termination if you are employed under a contract, but how you should proceed depends on the dispute resolution provisions contained in your contract. The New York City wrongful termination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you interpret your employment contract as it pertains to wrongful termination.
Employer Retaliation is Wrongful Termination in New York City
It is legal for employers to fire at-will employees for no reason at all, but while arbitrariness is acceptable, discrimination and retaliation are not. Discrimination is when an employer fires an employee because of a protected characteristic of the employee. Examples of protected characteristics include race, gender, religion, age, military status, family status, and disability. Your employer might say that they fired you just because, while you may reasonably believe that the termination of your employment was because of your race, gender, or other protected characteristic. The New York City wrongful termination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you present a persuasive case about the discriminatory nature of your employer’s actions.
Whether the employee has been hired on an at-will basis or with a contract, it is illegal for an employer to fire the employee in retaliation for the employee engaging in a protected activity. These are some examples of protected activities:
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim about a work injury or occupational disease
- Requesting an unpaid FMLA leave or a paid family leave (PFL)
- Engaging in a whistleblower action
- Reporting safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Filing a discrimination complaint
- Requesting accommodations for a disability
- Participating in an investigation about misconduct in your workplace
If your employer fired you in retaliation for your participation in a protected activity, it is wrongful termination of employment.
Separation Agreements and Wrongful Termination Claims
When an employer terminates an employment relationship that the employee could reasonably have expected to be ongoing, the employer sometimes offers a separation agreement. If the employee accepts the separation agreement, they receive a severance package that gives them enough money and health insurance coverage to keep them going while they look for a new job. All it costs you is the right to sue your employer for wrongful termination of employment. Separation agreements are common in the event of mass layoffs, as employers try to soften the blow when employees lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Even though it might seem like the employer is offering you a separation agreement as a courtesy, their motives might not be so altruistic. Employers sometimes offer separation agreements as a way of preemptively settling wrongful termination lawsuits that they would otherwise face.
Before you sign a separation agreement, ask a New York City wrongful termination of employment lawyer if you have grounds to sue your employer for wrongful termination of employment. Remember that if you sign the agreement and accept the severance pay, then you will no longer have the right to sue. If your employer is really firing you because of a protected characteristic or protected activity, then you should not accept the offer and you should not sign the agreement. If your employer does not want you to review the separation agreement with a lawyer, you know it is bad news. Even if you decide that the costs of filing a wrongful termination lawsuit outweigh the benefits, your lawyer can help you negotiate with your employer to get a better severance package.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Wrongful Termination in New York City
The New York City employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you decide whether the circumstances under which your job ended count as wrongful termination of employment and can help you seek appropriate legal remedies. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in New York, New York to set up a consultation.