New York has long adhered to the “at will” employment rule, and does not recognize a freestanding claim for “wrongful termination” in and of itself.
Courts state the at-will rule as follows:
Where a term of employment is for an indefinite period of time, it is presumed to be an employment at will that is freely terminable by either party at any time for any reason or even for no reason. [Bernhardt v. Tradition N. Am., 676 F. Supp.2d 301, 304-05 (S.D.N.Y. 2009).]
The rule is not without exceptions, however.
“New York law is clear that absent a constitutionally impermissible purpose, a statutory proscription, or an express limitation in the individual contract of employment, an employer’s right at any time to terminate an employment at will remains unimpaired.” Walia v. Veritas Healthcare Sols., L.L.C., No. 13 CIV. 6935 KPF, 2015 WL 4743542, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 11, 2015), appeal dismissed (Nov. 4, 2015); see also Brown v. Daikin, 756 F.3d 219 (2d Cir. 2014).
Various statutes – at the federal, state, and local (city) level – prohibit employment discrimination, even against at-will employees. These include (but are not limited to):
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII,
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- New York State Human Rights Law
- New York City Human Rights Law
- New York Labor Law (e.g., sec. 740, 741, 201-d).
Government employees have additional protections, under (e.g.) the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In sum, even if you are an “at will” employee – as many, if not most, employees in New York City are – you still have legal rights.