The United States is one of just several countries that operates under the at-will employment doctrine. What this means is that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, except for one that is prohibited by law. Likewise, an employee can quit a job at any time, for any reason. Neither party would face any legal consequences unless a contract was in place.
However, some employers terminate employees for discriminatory reasons. In some cases, employees are fired for retaliating against their employers. They may be discharged for engaging in certain activities outside of the workplace. While at-will employment covers a variety of employment situations, these reasons are illegal.
While it may seem as though employers have the upper hand, employees have rights, too. If you believe that you were unfairly terminated from your job, you may have an employee discrimination claim. Read on to learn about your rights.
What are Illegal Reasons for Discharge?
There are some reasons for firing someone that are considered against the law. Discrimination is one reason. In accordance with the New York State Division of Human Rights, a person cannot be fired based on the following reasons:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
This means that a person cannot be fired simply because he or she isAfrican-American, over the age of 65, a male rather than a female, a lesbian, single, or married. A person also cannot be fired because they are physically or mentally disabled. This does not mean that anyone in these categories cannot ever get fired. It just means, for example, that a person cannot be fired simply because he or she uses a wheelchair. However, if that employee performs poor quality work or gets caught stealing office supplies, then he or she can get fired for those reasons.
The law also prohibits discrimination for those who engage in:
- Recreational activities outside of work.
- Alcohol or tobacco use outside of work.
- Union activities.
What if a Contract is Involved?
If the employee has a contract, then employers may be limited as to their ability to fire him or her. Contracts often contain promises, so employers need to hold up their end of the deal. If they are guaranteeing a job for six months, then they need to keep that employee for six months unless they engage in egregious behavior. These limitations should be outlined in the contract to prevent misunderstanding.
Keep in mind that verbal contracts may be enforced, as well. For example, if your employer gives you a good performance review and promises you at least another year of work, but you are fired a month later, that could be considered an enforceable oral contract.
Contact a New York Employment Discrimination Lawyer
While at-will employment makes it harder for employees to sue employers for wrongful termination, there are situations in which the court will rule in the employee’s favor. Discrimination and retaliation are never valid reasons to fire someone.
If you were terminated from your job for unjust reasons, seek help from the experienced New York employment discrimination lawyers at Ricotta & Marks, P.C. We will fight for your rights and help you recover compensation or even your former job. Schedule a consultation today by calling our office at (347) 464-8694.