We get this call all the time. You have been with your company for a while and are starting to see the writing on the wall. You know you are about to get fired – what should you do? First, unless you have a contract, you are an employee at will. Thus, your employer can fire you at any time for any reason – good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. Similarly, you can quit your job at any time for any reason.
However, your employer may not terminate your employment for an illegal reason. The next logical question then, is what makes the termination illegal. Termination of employment is illegal when it is based on gender, race, disability, age, religion, national origin, FMLA leave, pregnancy, sexual identity/orientation or sexual harassment. Termination of employment is also illegal when it is undertaken because you have complained about discrimination based on any of the above, or because you have complained about irregularities in payment of wages (like not paying overtime).
If you believe that any of the above situations apply to you, you should speak to an employment lawyer immediately. More likely than not, you should also complain, in writing, about the unlawful conduct. Federal and State employment laws prohibit employers from retaliating against you for complaining about actual or perceived discrimination. Thus, even if the underlying discrimination you have complained about is not illegal, you are protected from retaliation so long as your complaint was made in good faith. This is also true if you complain about discrimination against another employee – not just yourself.
If all else fails, you may have to file a complaint with the New York State Department of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and perhaps state or federal court. If you speak to an employment attorney before your employment is terminated and before you have filed a complaint, you can be better prepared if and when the axe does fall.
If you believe that your employment is about to be terminated, feel free to contact us for a confidential consultation.