It’s Over: Ending the Employer-Employee Relationship in New York State

{3:10 minutes to read} 

The termination of an employee oftentimes presents the same questions to an employer, when considering the termination, and to an employee, when confronted with it. These questions are both legal and practical.

Can the employee be terminated?

New York is an at-will state. If the employee does not have a contract entitling her to continued employment for a period of time and/or setting forth grounds necessary for termination, and if no discrimination is involved and the law is not otherwise violated, an employer can discharge an employee at any time for any, or no reason. In those instances, unless the contract between the employer and employee provides otherwise, the employee is legally entitled to nothing: not continued employment, not notice, and not severance.

To the employee, this can seem to be very unfair—and in some instances may very well be. The employee may have made important life decisions in accepting a job, such as leaving a prior job, or relocating herself and her family. Her performance may have been very good; she may have received good reviews and may not have received any notice that she was not performing satisfactorily or that her job was at risk. Despite the consequences and seeming harshness of this, the employee’s entitlement to continued employment will not be affected; an at-will employee can be terminated at any time, without notice or cause.

Some employees have contracts entitling them to employment for a specified period of time.  

In some of those cases, the contract may state events that would entitle the employer to terminate the employee’s employment sooner, such as “cause,” as (usually) defined in the contract, or the failure to meet certain performance metrics. Whether or not “cause” existed, or the performance metrics were achieved, is often disputed by the parties, as it is the lynch-pin for determining whether the employee was entitled to continued employment and compensation if her termination was improper. If the contract is silent as to grounds for termination, the employee may only be discharged sooner than the end of the stated term if a finder of fact finds that just cause existed for termination.

Stay tuned for my next article, which will discuss severance.

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