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Can you fire an employee for any reason?

On Behalf of | Apr 6, 2023 | Employment Law

New York is an at-will employment state, along with almost all other states in the U.S. At-will employment means that workers can be fired without cause. An employer does not necessarily have to prove fault or have a reason to fire them. They can simply terminate the employee’s position as they wish.

Likewise, employees are allowed to quit their jobs whenever they want. They do not have to give advance notice and they do not have to have any specific reason to leave a job. Both sides are simply going to be in an employment relationship for as long as they want to be, and they can both end it at any time.

However, employers sometimes believe that this means they can fire employees for any reason at all. As a business owner yourself, you may be wondering if this is true.

Protected classes still apply

This is a misconception that some employers may have. It is true that employers do not need to have a reason to fire someone, but they still cannot fire them for any reason. Some reasons are illegal.

One example of this is if the employee is in a protected class. Protected classes under the EEOC include things like race, religion, age, gender and more. You can fire employees in these classes, but the class itself can’t be the reason – such as firing someone because they converted to a new religion. 

Additionally, employers cannot fire employees as retaliation. For instance, maybe an employee notices illegal labor practices and brings them to light. The boss may be tempted to fire them, claiming that they can do so under at-will employment laws, but this would still be illegal retaliation and a violation of the employee’s rights.

As you can see, it is important for employers to understand exactly how at-will employment works and to understand their legal options when facing a dispute.