In many cases, yes. In New York, 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 with a coworker, even if the other worker wasn't fired as well
- because your boss didn't like you
- 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.
In some circumstances, you might have legal recourse if fired unfairly:
Contract protections: If you work under a contract that says that you can only be fired for cause, you may have recourse. Most union contracts include a “good cause” provision, which must be enforced via the grievance procedure defined 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 unresponsive, contact your union in writing by email or certified mail. For more information, contact the National Labor Relations Board at 1-866-667-6572 or visit the National Labor Relations Board website.
Aside from union contracts, some workers have individual written contracts that 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 violates your contract.
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
complaining about a labor law violation to the employer, a coworker, the Attorney General, or the New York State Department of Labor (DOL). If you believe you were fired or discriminated against for this reason, contact the DOL at 1-800-662-1220 or visit the DOL website.
whistleblowing, in certain circumstances. Under New York Labor Law section 740, a whistleblower is a current or former employee or independent contractor who discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or public body an activity, policy, or practice of the employer that the whistleblower reasonably believes is in violation of law, rule or regulation or that the whistleblower reasonably believes poses a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety. With some narrow exceptions, you 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, consult an attorney to determine whether legal action is appropriate.
participating, 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, consult a private attorney, the New York State DOL at 1-800)-662-1220 or the New York State DOL website, or the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) at 1-866-4-USWAGE or the U.S. DOL website.
filing a claim for workers' compensation or disability benefits, or testifying before the Workers' Compensation Board. If you believe this has happened to you, make a complaints of retaliatory discharge to the Workers' Compensation Board at 1-800-877-1373 or the Workers' Compensation Board website.
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 1-866-667-6572 or visit the NLRB website.
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 1-866-444-EBSA or visit the Employee Benefits Security Administration website.
Taking leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For more information, contact the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-487-9242 or visit the FMLA website.
serving jury duty. If you have been fired for missing work to fulfill a jury-duty obligation, complete a complaint form for the Attorney General's Labor Bureau.
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 by following these instructions from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.
A terminated employee is entitled to receive any outstanding wages no later than the next regular pay day. The employee is also entitled to request that the wages be sent via mail.
Yes. There is no law in New York that permits an employee to examine their 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 want 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 the state's page on workforce governance. If you believe your employer has terminated you in violation of the WARN Act, contact the Attorney General's Labor Bureau.