How to Prove Wrongful Termination in New York
When terminated, the first reaction of most employees is shock. Unless the reason was obvious and building up for a while, most terminations are a surprise. Many employees will automatically assume it was a “wrongful termination” without realizing that that legal term applies only to a limited class of cases.
Here is an overview of wrongful termination and why you need to speak to an attorney with experience in this area of the law in the event that you are terminated from your job.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Private employment arrangements in New York are normally “at will.” Just as you are able to quit your job at any time for any reason, you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all – even if the reason appears obviously unfair, such as if your supervisor wants to hire a relative. In many cases like these, you will have no legal recourse available to you.
But there are other instances when terminating that employee is unlawful. These situations include:
- Breach of Contract: If your employment contract sets out specific reasons for dismissal or a minimum service period, you are not employed “at will” and your employer cannot dismiss you outside those terms. In a recent example, former SPCA director, Kerrin Conklin, filed a wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit claiming that her dismissal violated the terms of her employment contract.
- Discrimination: Employers are not permitted to fire you for discriminatory reasons based on your membership within a category of employees protected by local, state and/or federal law. Depending on what state and city you work in, these categories include race, religion, sex, gender, national origin, disability or perception of disability, pregnancy status, family status or need for unpaid family medical leave, criminal history or sexual orientation.
- Retaliation: Employers are prohibited from firing you for reporting a labor or employment law violation, including violation of laws that protect employees from discrimination. You have similar protection if you file a workers’ compensation claim.
- Using Authorized Time Off: If you use authorized sick or vacation time according to your contract or employers’ company policy, you cannot be fired at will. The same is true if you take advantage of unpaid family medical leave.
Unless you have a contract that controls the employer-employee relationship, these causes of action can sometimes be very difficult to prove. This is what makes wrongful termination one of the more challenging areas of law in the state of New York.
The easiest wrongful termination cases involve employment contracts. Contrasting the plain language of the contract with the actual termination events can be sufficient to prove that a termination was unlawful. For example, if your contract allows seven days of sick leave a year and you are fired after using two days, you are more likely to be able to show wrongful termination based on breach of contract.
Less objective claims, like discrimination or retaliation, may be more difficult to prove. It is often your word against an employer’s and in many cases, you will take the risk of losing at trial. Few workplaces contain “smoking gun” memos or direct comments that show intentional discrimination or retaliation. Evidence of a pattern of behavior towards others in your protected category (same race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) may help prove your claim, as will evidence that co-workers who do not belong to your protected category are treated better or differently. Discriminatory comments, such as the use of stereotypes or slurs in the workplace, can also be proof of intentional discrimination if you are later fired.
Call an Attorney Today
An experienced New York wrongful termination attorney can examine your circumstances and determine if you have a strong claim. Even if you believe it is impossible to prove your case, contact the Working Solutions Law Firm today through the online form or call (646) 430-7930 to learn about your legal options.