At-will doctrine vs. employee contracts in New York

In order for New York employers to remain in full compliance with the law, they must understand just what is covered under the state's at-will employment doctrine. While in many cases these laws protect businesses from incurring a wrongful termination claim, there are a few instances when other circumstances can override existing state regulations.

As described by the New York Department of Labor, at-will laws apply to numerous workers in the state. This means that many employees can be terminated at the discretion of the employer without need for prior notice. Employees can also resign from their work duties as they see fit without fear of reprisal. However, there are a few exceptions to these rules which employers must follow to remain within their legal rights.

For instance, an employer that fires a worker for any reason deemed discriminatory can face serious ramification. In New York, discrimination entails firing an employee due to sexual orientation, gender, age, race/ethnicity, marital status or disability. It is also unlawful for employers to terminate an employee due to out-of-work activities (such as political interests), status as a union member or in retaliation for making a complaint about a poor working condition or situation.

Even in states with at-will doctrines in place, an employee contract will override these provisions. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists modification by contract as one of the many exceptions to prevailing at-will laws. Accordingly, the terms existing within a contract agreed upon by employer and employee must be adhered to in order to prevent wrongful termination from occurring. Many employee contracts include provisions related to the quality and volume of employee work; however, the actual stipulations can vary based on employer needs and requirements. 

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