Job Termination

In many cases, yes. In New York State, a private-sector employer is not required to have good cause to discharge an employee. The employer can do so for reasons many people might consider unfair, such as to replace you with a member of the boss’s family, for fighting even if the other worker wasn't fired, because your boss didn't like you, or because your flight was cancelled and you had to extend your vacation. Public-sector employees (those who work for the government) and workers covered by a collective-bargaining agreement may have more legal protection.

There are various circumstances, however, in which you might have legal recourse if fired unfairly:

  1. Contract Protections:  If you work under a contract which says that you can only be fired for cause. Most union contracts include a “good cause” provision, which must be enforced via the grievance procedure set forth in that contract. There may be a very short deadline for filing grievances, so consult your union representative as soon as possible. If your union seems to be unresponsive, you should contact your union in writing (email or certified mail), and for more information, you can contact the National Labor Relations Board at 866-667-6572 or http://www.nlrb.gov.

    Besides union contracts, some workers have individual written contracts which limit the employer’s right to fire them. If you have a contract, check its terms and consult a private attorney as soon as possible if you think your discharge is a contract violation.

  2. Unlawful Reasons for Termination:  Various laws prohibit firing or discriminating against workers for certain specific reasons.  In other words, while an employer can fire someone for no reason, it is not allowed to do so for a prohibited reason. Of course, your employer may not give you a reason (or give you what you believe to be the real reason) when you are fired.  Note that agencies that investigate unlawful discharge are experienced with this issue and will thoroughly investigate to identify whether the “real” reason was unlawful.  The most common prohibited reasons are:
    • Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, sexual orientation, marital status, military status, or disability, as described here.
    • Complaining about a Labor Law violation, to the employer, a coworker, the Attorney General, or the Department of Labor.  If you believe you were fired or discriminated against for this reason, contact the New York State Department of Labor at (800) 662-1220 or http://www.labor.ny.gov
    • “Whistleblowing,” in very narrow circumstances. Under New York Labor Law section 740, a “whistleblower” is someone who reports or refuses to participate in a violation of law that causes a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. To invoke the law, the worker must also have given the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct its practice by bringing it to a supervisor’s attention before going to a public agency. If you think you were fired for whistleblowing within the meaning of the law, you should consult an attorney to determine whether legal action is appropriate.
    • Participation, on your own time, in lawful political or recreational activities.  If you believe you have been discharged because of your involvement in such legitimate pursuits, you should consult a private attorney, the NY Department of Labor at (800) 662-1220 or https://www.labor.ny.gov/home/, or the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-4-USWAGE or http://www.dol.gov.
    • Filing a Workers' Compensation or Disability Benefits claim or testifying before the Workers' Compensation Board.  Complaints of such retaliatory discharge may be made to the Workers' Compensation Board at (800) 877-1373 or http://www.wcb.ny.gov/.
    • Joining, forming, or supporting a union, or acting together with coworkers to try to improve your pay or working conditions (with or without a union). If you believe the employer has fired you for one of these reasons, contact the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) at 866-667-6572 or http://www.nlrb.gov.
    • Filing a claim or otherwise exercising your rights under an employee benefit plan.  For more information, contact the U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration at (866) 444-EBSA or visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa.
    • Taking leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. For more information, contact the U.S. Department of Labor at (866) 487-9242 or http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/benefits-leave/fmla.htm.
    • Serving jury duty. If you have been fired for missing work to fulfill a jury duty obligation, contact the Labor Bureau by completing a complaint form .
    • Taking sick leave or requesting to be paid for paid sick leave (New York City only). If you work in New York City and have been fired for taking sick leave, file a complaint with NYC Department of Consumer Affairs by following the instructions at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dca/workers/workersrights/file-workplace-complaint.page.

A terminated employee is entitled to have any outstanding wages paid to him or her no later than the next regular pay day. The employee is also entitled to request that the wages be sent via the mail.

Yes. There is no law in New York State which permits an employee to examine his or her personnel file.

Probably not, as long as what the employer says is true or is just the employer’s opinion.  If you think you can prove that the employer is spreading false factual information about you, you might wish to consult a private attorney about your possible rights.

The New York State Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires covered businesses to give at least 90 days of notice to employees prior to a plant closing, mass layoff, or other covered reduction in work hours. If a business does not provide notice, it may be required to pay back wages and benefits to workers. For more information about the WARN Act, visit https://labor.ny.gov/workforcenypartners/warn/warnportal.shtm. If you believe your employer has terminated you in violation of the WARN Act, contact the Labor Bureau by completing a complaint form.