At-will employment is a type of employment relationship commonly used in the United States. It gives employers the legally-protected right to terminate an employee at any time, for any reason or for no reason, without notice or warning. At-will employment is the norm in the United States, but the exceptions to it are important for New York employers and employees to be aware of, as they can have an impact on the relationship. This article will explain the basics of at-will employment, particularly as they apply to New York, and then look at some of the exceptions and restrictions that may apply in this state.

At-Will Employment and New York Law

At its most basic, at-will employment means that both an employer and an employee can end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, and without warning. This eliminates any obligation an employer might have to provide a certain level of job security to an employee, and also gives the employer the right to terminate an employee immediately if the situation demands it. At-will employment does not depend on an employment contract. In New York, the state follows the at-will presumption, so any employment relationship not governed by a contract is presumed to be an at-will employment relationship. This means that, unless the employer clearly and unambiguously specifies that the employee will only be terminated for “good cause” or that the employee will have a period of notice if terminated, he or she is employed at-will.

Exceptions and Restrictions

Although most employment relationships in New York are presumed to be at-will, there are several exceptions that are worth noting. The first is public-sector employees, whether federal, state, or local. These employees are often protected by contractual terms or collective bargaining agreements that cannot be waived in favor of at-will employment. Public-sector employees may also have additional protections through the First Amendment, which may protect them from being terminated for engaging in free speech activities, such as criticizing government officials or policies.

In addition, New York law imposes certain restrictions on at-will employment. For instance, New York employers are prohibited from terminating employees for a number of reasons, including but not limited to their race, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. Similarly, employers are prohibited from terminating employees for attempting to exercise their labor rights, such as filing a complaint or exercising their right to join a union. New York employers are also barred from unfavorably treating their employees, or retaliating against them, for exercising their legal rights.

Finally, employers in New York are prohibited from discriminating against employees who have served in the military or are members of the Reserve. Under the so-called “uniformed services” law, employers cannot discriminate against these individuals to the same extent as other employees. This means, for example, that an employer in New York cannot terminate an employee because of their military status.

Hiring Lawyers in New York

The various exceptions and restrictions on at-will employment in New York can be daunting for employers, and it is not always easy to stay on top of the constantly shifting legal landscape. If you are an employer in New York, or if you are an employee in this state, it is wise to seek experienced legal counsel to ensure that your employment arrangement is in compliance with state law. Fortunately, UpCounsel's network of experienced lawyers provide services tailored to the needs of employers and employees in New York. With UpCounsel, you can access high-quality, cost-effective legal services, and there are no long-term commitments to make. Whether you need a one-time consult or an entire freelance legal department, UpCounsel has you covered.


At-Will Employment,

New York Law,

At-Will Employment Exceptions