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At-will employment covers employers and employees

| Mar 9, 2021 | Employment Law |

Employment in New York is like most states where employers and employees can usually end their employment relationship at any time without a mutual agreement. At-will employment provides many advantages to businesses and employees but there are important employment law restrictions.


Typically, employers have the right to terminate an employee for any reason at any time. Employees can also end their employment at any time for no or any reason. Employers and employees do not have to give prior notice in these situations.

Employers can change the terms of employment under most circumstances. These include compensation, benefits, and work hours.

An employment contract eliminates at will employment rights and powers. These contracts define and impose work hours, salary, benefits, employment length, the employee’s responsibilities, and other employment terms.


Federal and New York laws protect workers against retaliation or termination for engaging in certain activities:

  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim for a work-related injury.
  • Filing a discrimination or harassment lawsuit.
  • Reporting unsafe or illegal workplace practices.
  • Refusing to perform illegal acts for the employer.
  • Participating in a workplace investigation.
  • Discussing the working environment and overtime.
  • Using legally protected leave time.
  • Requesting an accommodation for a disability.


Employers cannot fire workers because of discrimination based on their race, gender, religion, color, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, sexual preference or being in another protected class. Federal and New York laws provide legal remedies to employees. Employers may also violate laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.


Employers cannot fire an employee for going on strike or engaging in other union activities. A collective bargaining agreement may exempt some workers from at-will employment.

Good faith

Employers may not fire or discharge a worker in bad faith. They cannot terminate an employee if malice underlies that action.


At-will employment is typically preferred by small business owners who anticipate changing staff needs or want to release poorly performing employees without warning or notice.

At-will employment allows employees to quit without providing advanced notice although contract workers may have to meet their obligations or pay a monetary penalty for not providing required notice. At-will employees typically do not have to execute non-compete agreements.

The Firm understands the challenges of trying to comply with the immense body of New York’s state and local laws and federal law. Employers should seek legal advice to assure that their actions keep pace with changing requirements, remain legal and do not lead to other legal complications.