When Can Someone Sue for Wrongful Termination in New York?

Hirings and firings are normal occurrences in the course of doing business, but sometimes a New York employer’s actions when terminating an employee violates a federal, state, or city law and leaves them open to liability should their former employee file a lawsuit. There are a number of protections afforded to employees under federal, New York state, and New York City laws – violating any of them can give an employee a claim for wrongful termination.

At-Will Employment Standard

In a majority of cases, New York employers can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason. New York is an “at-will” employment state, meaning the business relationship between an employer and employee can be terminated by either party on any basis. A termination can be lawful and still come across as unethical or unfair. However, there are some key exceptions to this general rule that could give rise to either wrongful termination claims or another type of lawsuit.

What Employer Conduct Can Give Rise to Liability?


Employers are prohibited from firing employees of a protected class for any discriminatory reason by federal, state, and city law in New York City. An employee may not be discriminated against or terminated because of their:

  • Race
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Pregnancy
  • Disability.

An employee who complains of discrimination and is then fired may have an additional claim for wrongful termination and possible retaliation.

Sexual Harassment

Another “at-will” exception is terminating an employee after they are victims of or report sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment covers a wide array of behaviors and situations, from inappropriate comments, joking, or touching, to the request for sexual favors, to the termination of an employee for ending a consensual sexual relationship with their coworker or their supervisor. New York State and New York City have Human Rights Laws in place that prohibit any type of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliatory behavior for reporting this conduct. If an employee was sexually harassed and fired for complaining about it, a claim for wrongful termination may exist.


Both federal and New York law have “whistleblower” provisions where, in some situations, an employee is authorized to report illegal activity at their place of employment to the appropriate authorities. The whistleblower laws shield the reporting employee from retaliation by their employer, up to and including termination, for alerting authorities to corruption or other wrongful conduct by their employer.

New York Employment Lawyer

Employers in New York benefit from the state’s “at-will” status, as they have a great deal of freedom to run their businesses and handle personnel decisions as they see fit. However, it’s important to know the boundaries you may not cross as an employer without subjecting yourself to legal and financial liability. To make sure you comply with the current laws when making personnel decisions, talking with the experienced employment lawyers at MOWK Law beforehand can save you time, money, and legal headaches. Contact us today with your questions and let us help you stay on the right side of the law.