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Understanding your rights when your employer lets you go

It's a nightmarish scenario that plays out in offices, factories, warehouses and other worksites across the state of New York with unfortunate frequency: employees being randomly summoned into a conference room or a supervisor's office only to be told that they are being let go.

Once the initial shock of being fired subsides, employees often experience a host of emotions, particularly anger. Indeed, this anger may be compounded once their questions as to why this decision was reached either go unanswered, or they are provided with a reason that seems patently unjust on its face.

As understandably frustrating as this is can be, it's important to understand that New York is what is known as an "employment at will" state. What this essentially means is that is legally permissible for a private sector employer to terminate the services of their employees as they see fit -- for either no reason, or reasons that could be considered unfair or unreasonable.

For example, it's not illegal for an employer not to tell you why you are being fired, or for you to be fired because the boss either wants to replace you with a relative or simply doesn't care for you.

This isn't to say, however, that employees are completely at the mercy of their employers when it comes to termination.

First and foremost, an employer cannot fire an employee for no reason or a seemingly unwarranted reason if they previously signed an employment contract setting forth in very clear terms the limited circumstances in which they may be fired.

Indeed, those people employed under union contracts typically can only be fired for cause, and are protected by things like seniority protection and grievance procedures.

We'll continue this discussion in future posts, including examining the circumstances in which it is illegal under state law to terminate the services of an employee.

In the meantime, if you believe that you've been wrongfully terminated or otherwise victimized by workplace discrimination, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your options.        

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