At-Will Employment in New York: What Businesses Need to Know

Employees in New York State are considered “at-will” employees, meaning that the employee can be terminated without warning, at any time, and for any reason or no reason at all.

While employment may be “at-will,” there is an exception to the doctrine of at-will employment in New York.

New York State's At-Will Employment Law

Any business operating in the state of New York generally may terminate an employee with no warning. Additionally, managers may terminate an employee:

  • At any time
  • For any reason
  • For no reason at all

However, there are some exceptions to New York At-Will employment.

At-Will Employment Exceptions

It is illegal to terminate an employee under the New York At-Will Employment Doctrine if any of the following are reasons for termination:

  • Age/Sex/Pregnancy/Sexual Orientation
  • Race/Color
  • Criminal History
  • Religion/Creed
  • Disability
  • Activities
  • National Origin
  • Marital Status
  • Outside-of-Work Political Activities
  • Other Unlawful Outside-of-Work Activities

New York businesses are also prohibited from firing an employee in retaliation for the following actions:

  • Whistleblowing Activity
  • Family Medical Leaves
  • Paid Family Leave
  • Disability Leave
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Alleged Discrimination
  • Union Affiliation/Support/Activity
  • Other concerted activity

How Companies Can Maintain the At-Will Relationship with Employees

Managers can do the following things to help maintain a positive at-will employment relationship with employees: 

  • Protect the at-will employment Relationship by stating it in relevant company policies, or in handbooks/manuals
  • Establish the employer's right to modify, abolish, or substitute policies at the employer’s discretion with or without notice 
  • Verbally explain that employment is at-will and that employers and employees may terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, with or without notice
  • It is best to state that no other agreement or assurance has been made during the recruiting or hiring process

Compliance Tips for Terminating Employees

In addition to HR compliance services, documentation is the key to any disciplinary actions or the discharge of an employee. 

It is best to keep documentation of:

  • Performance issues
  • Progressive discipline reports
  • Performance evaluations
  • Investigation reports and findings
  • Any corrective action taken by the Company or managers/supervisors

During investigations, consider the nature of the offense and how it may be unrelated, or related, to previous offenses:

  • Determine if the employee violated a rule or committed misconduct before imposing discipline
  • Determine if the employee was aware of the rule and what the consequences are for violating it
  • Determine if the rule is directly related to the operation of the business and employee performance
  • Ensure the investigation was conducted fairly and objectively. You may also seek additional resources to bring in a third-party person to investigate 
  • Ask yourself if the investigation produces substantial evidence that determines the employee was guilty of the misconduct or rule violation
  • Determine that as the employer, rules, and penalties have been applied evenly and that they would have treated themselves in a similar manner
  • Determine if the level of disciplinary action (verbal warning, written warning, termination, etc.) was related to the seriousness of the offense and any, if at all, employee past record

Final Thoughts on New York At-Will Employment

Having EBC HR & Payroll Solutions, Inc. on your team allows you to move forward with confidence, knowing that we’re doing right by your employees, doing right by you, and it’s all being done in accordance with all the latest rules, regulations, and laws.

Human resources are a vital aspect of any organization and we know that HR personnel can become inundated by laws and regulations as they work to establish HR and Safety policies and procedures. EBC is dedicated to offering solutions for your organization’s human resources challenges. Our philosophy is to provide a comprehensive, wide range of services to all our clients.

To learn more about how EBC HCM is already helping countless businesses with New York At-Will compliance, or to learn more about other HR Services, contact us today.

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