New York City Bill Would Abolish At-Will Employment

Leah Shepherd By Leah Shepherd December 12, 2022

​Legislation proposed in New York City would prohibit employers from terminating employees without just cause. It would also ban the use of electronic monitoring in discharging or disciplining employees.

We have rounded up a group of articles on the topic by SHRM Online and other trusted news sources.

New York City Proposal

If passed, the legislation could transform the balance of power between bosses and their employees. Employees' jobs would be legally protected unless their boss could demonstrate misconduct, unsatisfactory performance or a genuine economic need to eliminate their position. Workers who believe they are terminated without just cause would be able to bring legal claims before city enforcers, arbitrators or state court judges.

The bill also would restrict companies' use of technology to surveil and assess workers' performance and would permit the city comptroller to bring cases on behalf of fired employees, even if those workers had signed forced arbitration clauses giving up their rights to sue.

(Bloomberg Government, subscription only)

Fast-Food Workers

The fast-food industry in New York City already has a just-cause requirement for terminations. An ordinance signed into law in 2021 requires that an employer seeking to fire a fast-food worker must do so for just cause, following progressive discipline. The law prohibits significantly cutting employees' hours. When just-cause dismissal is required, the termination must be for a reason as defined by a statute or collective bargaining agreement. Employee discharges based on a bona fide economic reason must be done in reverse order of seniority so that employees with the greatest seniority are retained the longest and reinstated or have their hours restored first.

(SHRM Online)

At-Will Employment

In the United States, the doctrine of at-will employment refers to an employment relationship between an employer and an employee, under which either party can terminate the relationship without notice, at any time and for any reason not prohibited by law. The at-will doctrine is the presumed relationship between employers and employees except when a formal contract or agreement exists.

Montana is the only state that requires a just cause for termination. However, during a 12-month probationary period, Montana employers can fire workers without just cause.

(SHRM Online and SHRM Online)

Terms of Employment

At-will employment means that an employer can change the terms of the employment relationship with no notice and no consequences. For example, an employer can alter wages, terminate benefits or reduce paid time off. The U.S. at-will rule leaves employees vulnerable to arbitrary and sudden dismissal, a limited or on-call work schedule depending on the employer's needs, and unannounced cuts in pay and benefits. The at-will arrangement can be modified by individual employment contracts or union contracts, also called collective bargaining agreements.

(National Conference of State Legislatures)

Protected Classes

Under the U.S. at-will employment system, workers have few protections in place to help them keep their jobs and cushion the blow if they're fired. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world with such a system. However, there are many exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, it's still illegal to fire people based on race, color, religion or sex. It's also unlawful to fire someone for whistleblowing, filing a complaint about sexual harassment or being part of a union.




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