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Wrongful Termination

Monday, May 4, 2015

The “At Will” Employment Doctrine and Wrongful Termination

When Can New York State Employers Fire an At Will Employee?

Employees in New York State need to understand that, under at-will employment laws, they may be fired by their employers for almost any reason and without warning.  Although some exceptions to at-will employment exist (for reasons relating to, for instance, sexual harassment and discrimination) workers in New York State actually have less protection than workers in most other states.

New York is one of seven states that does not have public policy exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. Public policy exceptions forbid firings for reasons such as:

  • Reporting of workplace safety hazards;
  • Opposition to an employer’s criminal activities;
  • Reporting of business practices that could harm the public in violation of specific laws, regulations and acts; and
  • Other acts relating to business practices that are inconsistent with public policies.

A wrongful termination case that recently concluded in the District of Columbia demonstrates the difficulties workers may face when challenging a wrongful termination.

In 2013, Alvin Hoff sued his former employer Wiley Rein LLP following his dismissal. Mr. Hoff claimed that:

  • He had been pressured by his superior to falsely give a direct report a satisfactory review;
  • When an unsatisfactory review was issued, the direct report claimed he had been given the poor review because the he had refused to lend Mr. Hoff money; and

That he was fired as a result of the direct report’s accusation.

Following his termination, Mr. Hoff filed a wrongful termination suit, arguing that the request by his superior to falsify the employee review violated laws prohibiting fraudulent business activities and the local Human Rights Act. That violation, he continued, would have put him within the exception to the “at will” doctrine because it involved legal fraud provisions, and because his discharge resulted directly from refusing to commit these violations.

The trial court disagreed, as did the appeals court that handled the case last month, stating that Hoff did not prove fraud would have occurred had he followed his employer’s directions.

Employee terminations can feel unfair and even heinous; yet prove to be fully legal under at-will employment laws. If you have questions regarding employment termination in New York, get answers and, if warranted, knowledgeable and aggressive legal help. Contact Thomas M. Lancia in Manhattan by calling (212)964-3157 for a consultation today.


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