Exceptions to At-Will Employment: NYC Fast Food Workers Need Just Cause for Firing

Most employment in New York state is considered “at-will.” However, there are exceptions to this general principle of at-will employment. One notable example is New York City’s expansion of the Fair Workweek Law to require that fast food workers be fired only for “just cause.” 

At-Will Employment Generally

At-will employment means that employers can lay off employees for any reason (or no reason) without an explanation, unless the firing is a violation of the law, like any form of employment discrimination or retaliation. For instance, this could be considered a wrongful termination if you were sacked shortly after you voiced your concerns over workplace safety. 

Another area of exceptions to at-will employment in New York include situations where the employee has an employment contract which adjusts the employment at-will default rule. This can either be for individual employees like doctors, lawyers, executives, who have their own employment contracts, or for a group of employees, such as laborers like electricians or plumbers who have union contracts (collective bargaining agreements). 

Rationale for Expansion 

As you can see, there are very few exceptions to at-will employment. Most New Yorkers are at-will and don’t have much job security. Thus, the New York City law makers wanted to expand the pool of employees that aren’t at the mercy of at-will employment and changed the Fair Workweek Law to incorporate the requirement that fast food workers must be fired for “just cause.” 

Requirements of the New York Fair Workweek Law

Here are specific requirements of this law:

  • The covered employees are fast food workers who work for chains with 30 or more restaurants across the country.
  • Employers must provide an initial 30-day probation period.
  • Then, the employer can terminate the employee, reduce their work hours by 15%, or indefinitely suspend the employee onlyfor just cause.
  • Just cause definition: Employee is unable to satisfactory perform the job duties orthere is misconduct which is demonstrably and materially harmful to the employer’s business. 
  • Before discharge, the employer must provide 5 days-notice with the reason for the termination.

Just Cause Factors

The following factors are used to determine just cause:

  • Whether the employee knew or should’ve known about the employer’s policy used as a basis for discipline
  • Whether the employer adequately trained the employee
  • Whether the employer fairly, reasonably, and consistently used the policy to discipline the employee
  • Whether the employer investigated the inadequate performance or misconduct in a fair/objective way
  • Whether the employee violated a rule or policy which is the basis of the discipline

Get Legal Help with your New York Employment Issues

Although most employees have at-will employment, there are times when they be able to get relief from being fired. If you need to know more about the NYC Fair Workweek Law or believe you’ve suffered another wrongful termination, get in touch with an experienced employment law attorney. A MOWK Law employment attorney has the legal expertise to help you understand if you have a claim against your employer. Contact us soon to learn more.