U.S. business laws and customary practices generally track those that feature in other developed countries in many respects.
But not all. One notable exception is the long-entrenched at-will labor law standard. In a nutshell, at-will employment means this: Company principals can fire a worker without just cause under virtually any circumstance.
That point was soundly driven home a couple of years back in New York when a fast-food worker was reportedly terminated on the spot for not smiling at customers.
While seeming to provide employers with absolute power to fire workers, the at-will standard is in fact not without limits. It comes with a key caveat stressing that even a without-cause termination cannot proceed if motivated by an unlawful discriminatory purpose.
For example, a worker cannot be fired for being of a certain race, pregnant, advanced in years, disabled or having other attributes protected under a host of strong federal and state laws.
Employers must thus walk a straight line when employing their at-will prerogative, given that it might be challenged on grounds ranging from discriminatory intent to retaliation and wrongful termination.
At-will concerns have commanded a strong spotlight in New York City since an enactment earlier this year that is scheduled to take legal effect on July 4. The legislation will disallow at-will terminations in the metro’s vast fast-food industry. It is the first of its kind to be passed in the United States.
Virtually any New York employer might reasonably have questions or concerns about at-will standards and linked details. An experienced New York employment law legal team can provide guidance and, when necessary, strong representation in a labor dispute.