No one likes being fired. The experience can range from somewhat unpleasant to absolutely life-shattering, and is usually something people do everything they can to avoid. In many cases, being fired can feel unjust or unfair, and can represent perceived or even real misjudgment on the part of the person who fired you.
However, there are certain instances in which firing someone is not simply unkind, unjustified, or even unpleasant. In cases of “wrongful termination”, the reasons for which someone was fired or the way in which they were fired make the firing actually illegal. In those cases, the terminated employee can pursue legal recourse against their employer for violating their given rights as employees in NYC.
Wrongful termination only applies to a very specific set of circumstances. Most firings—even if they are unfair or unpleasant—do not constitute wrongful termination.
This is because Manhattan is an “at-will” state. This means that private sector employers can fire any employee without having to have a “good” reason for doing so.
However, wrongful termination is the exception to the “at-will” rule. Situations that may constitute wrongful termination include:
Contract Protection Violations: There are some employment contracts that include specific, explicit exceptions to the “at-will” rule, and require employers to have good cause to fire the employee. This is sometimes referred to as a “good cause provision.” They are most common in union contracts, but are becoming increasingly common even in non-union employment arrangements.
A “good cause provision” does not mean that you are protected from being fired for any reason, or for reasons you don’t like. It will usually specify the specific circumstances in which you may be fired, up to and including “good cause” at the discretion of the employer.
In addition, good clause provisions usually come with specific grievance procedures that you must follow in order to appeal the decision and even in order to pursue legal action. There are often short deadlines involved, so it is best to familiarize yourself with the terms of these clauses before you reach a point of conflict.
Unlawful Reasons for Termination: Though employers in at-will states do not have to show cause for firing you, they do have to prove that they are not firing you for a few specific reasons. NYC Employees are protected from termination for a number of specific reasons, including:
Discrimination: Employees are protected from discrimination on the basis of:
Whistleblowing: Being a whistleblower means refusing to participate in, or even reporting, behavior on the part of a company or employer that is illegal or that endangers public health and/or safety. It is illegal to fire someone for whistleblowing.
However, whistleblowing only applies in very specific contexts. Specifically, you must notify your employer of the harmful behavior or policy and give them a reasonable chance to correct it. If they do not correct it and you refuse to facilitate and/or report it, your employer cannot fire you.
Union Activity: Unions are protected by labor laws in both Manhattan and more generally in the United States. In NYC, employers cannot legally fire you for any attempt at or participation in unions or union-building activities. This includes joining unions as well as attempting to form a union, or acting in support of union-building.
Notably, these protections extend to both formal unions and any informal attempt at collective action with your coworkers to improve your pay or working conditions.
Worker’s Compensation: If an employee is injured or disabled on the job, they have the right to pursue worker’s compensation or disability benefits. If an employer retaliates against an employee for filing for worker’s compensation or disability, or for helping themselves or someone else obtain worker’s compensation or disability benefits (including by testifying at a worker’s compensation hearing), then it may qualify as wrongful termination.
Claiming Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or Sick Leave Benefits: In Manhattan City, certain employees are entitled to a certain amount of paid sick leave and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits.
Sick leave entitlements depend on the size of a given employer. For instance, employers with 100 or more employees must provide up to 56 hours of paid sick leave per calendar year, while employers with 99-5 employers must only provide 40 hours.
FMLA leave, meanwhile, entitles all employees who have worked for the City of Manhattan for at least 12 months (clocking at least 1,250 hours) to up to 12 weeks of leave—in some cases paid, in some cases unpaid—to deal with a serious illness or care for an immediate family member.
If an employer fires an employee for requesting sick leave or FMLA leave for which they are eligible, it may constitute wrongful termination.
Taking any Employee Benefits: Different types of employees are entitled to different benefits under the law. Filing a claim for those benefits or otherwise acting within your rights to pursue those benefits is protected under the law, and it is illegal for an employer to fire you for doing so.
Labor Violation Complaints: In a slight variation of the whistleblower protections, any employee who complains about labor law violations to their employer, their coworkers, their union, or other authorities (such as the Attorney General or the Department of Labor) is legally protected. If you employer fires you for complaining about labor violations, it may be considered wrongful termination.
Participation in Lawful Political Activities (Outside of the Workplace): No matter who you work for, you have a right to participate lawfully in political activities. This right is enshrined by the first amendment. Unfortunately, some employers attempt to infringe upon that right by firing employees that participate in legal political activities that they do not agree with, or that they feel are at odds with the business. If you were fired for participating in a legal, political activity on your own time (like participating in a legal demonstration, or petitioning your senator), it may constitute wrongful termination.
Serving Jury Duty: Every citizen of NYC has the obligation to present for jury duty when called, and to potentially serve jury duty if selected. In some cases, this can cause employees to miss quite a bit of work, especially in protracted and high-profile cases. If you have been fired for participating in any part of the jury duty process, it constitutes wrongful termination.
Do you believe you have been wrongfully terminated in NYC? Manhattan City Wrongful Termination Attorney David Rich is ready to help. He will help you pursue all claims and damages owed to you, and will ensure that you get the just compensation that you deserve. Don’t wait! Reach out today at (347) 941-0760 for a consultation on your case.
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