Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, state, and sometimes city laws govern claims of wrongful termination. However, you should be aware that simply because you think you were unfairly terminated does not mean you have a wrongful termination claim. New York is an at-will employment state. At-will employment means that you can leave your job any time you want to for any reason, and your employer can terminate you at any time for any lawful reason. In other words, wrongful termination must be unlawful, not just unfair. Only employees with an employment contract or an appropriate employee handbook provision can avoid at-will status in New York
New York City and State Wrongful Termination Requirements
In New York State, both federal and state wrongful termination statutes apply. New York State protects employees from breach of contract, which includes provisions in an employee handbook. Terminated persons may be able to show that the contractual handbook provisions were not followed in relation to their termination. New York State generally prohibits wrongful termination based on:
- Sex, including sexual orientation
- Race or color
- Marital status
- National Origin
In addition, the City of New York prohibits employers with four or more employees from wrongful termination based on actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship status, or status as a victim of domestic violence or sex offenses.
Federal Wrongful Termination Law
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal law regarding wrongful termination. The law applies to the termination of employees because of that person’s membership in one of the prohibited groups. In addition, your employer may not fire you in retaliation for your participation in an employment complaint or for failure to obey an unlawful direction. You also cannot be terminated for reporting unlawful conduct by your employer.
New York Wrongful Termination Requirements
Under New York State law, employers must terminate employees only for lawful reasons. Generally, lawful bases include things like performance, misconduct, or downsizing of the company or department. Unlawful reasons include:
- Discrimination based on membership in a protected category
- Inconsistent application of firm policies
- Retaliation for reporting unlawful conduct or participating in an investigation of such conduct
- Breach of contract (including certain handbook provisions)
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable attorney working in the area of wrongful termination and employment law. The attorney will be able, at no cost, to discuss your claim with you and advise you as to how you should proceed.
Common Wrongful Termination Claims
Claims of wrongful termination are usually based on the following types of conduct:
- Termination based on membership in a protected group (race, religion, sex, etc.)
- Termination in breach of contract
- Termination in breach of contractual employee handbook term
- Termination in retaliation for reporting unlawful employer activity or participating in an investigation of such activity
What You Should Do if You Believe You Were Wrongfully Terminated
Wrongful termination law can be tricky. First, the fairness of the firing does not impact whether it represents a wrongful termination. Second, the burden of proof that the firing was unlawful is often based on subjective statements and documents to which you may not have easy access. For these reasons, if you think you may have been wrongfully terminated, you should take some immediate steps, as well as contacting experienced New York employment discrimination counsel.
Document Your Case
Most terminations indicate that they are based on a lawful reason. Since you are alleging that you were fired for an unlawful reason, you will need access to records allowing you to demonstrate that the claimed basis for the termination is false. Since most of these records will not be easy for you to access, you should consider working with a knowledgeable employment discrimination attorney to assist you.
Keep Communicating with Your Supervisors
No matter how badly things went, it may be worth your while to stay in communication with your employers. They may not be aware of the situation in its entirety or may be trying to resolve the problem quietly
Talk to HR
It would help if you also stayed in touch with Human Resources. HR staff understands the wrongful termination rules. For this reason, even though they will ultimately side with your former employer, they may at least listen to your story with some concern and may be able to explain to you why the company is taking the steps it is (or is not) taking regarding your claim. However, even if HR doesn’t give you either compassion or advice, as your employment discrimination attorney will tell you, if you make a formal claim, you must be able to show that you exhausted your in-house remedies. So, you should be sure to take any steps that your employee handbook says you should before making a formal claim.
What Remedies Are Available to Me
Wrongful termination cases have usually only make monetary damages available. You will need to prove that you have suffered an economic injury and how much that injury is worth. These economic losses can include:
- Lost Pay – wages you would have received if not fired, as well as any unpaid wages, overtime, or other compensation the employer is withholding, reduced by your earnings since the termination
- Lost Benefits – includes medical and other insurance, pension and 401k plans, stock options, profits sharing, etc.
- Emotional Distress – generally only available if there has been employer misconduct
- Punitive (or Exemplary) Damages – available if the employer’s conduct was outrageous. Not always easy to prove. Intended to punish the employer rather than compensate you.
- Attorney’s Fees – only occasionally available.
Retain an Attorney as Soon as You Can
If you believe that you have been a victim of wrongful termination, consult an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you understand whether you have a claim and the remedies that may be available. He or she can also help you with preparing and maintaining necessary records.
Call a New York Wrongful Termination Lawyer Today for a Free Consultation
At A.Y.G., PLLC, we are dedicated to helping people who have been wrongfully terminated from their jobs. To schedule a free case evaluation, call our office today at 646-201-8625 or contact us online.