New York Employment Law Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Does my boss have to give me a reason why I am being fired or laid off in the State Of New York?
A: According to New York Employment Law, your boss does not have to tell you why you are being fired or laid off.
Q: Do I have a right to get a copy of my personnel file?
A: You do not have a right to see your personnel file nor to get a copy of what is in it, unless your state or local law provides for it and most do not.
Q: How much notice does my boss owe me before he fires me?
A: In New York, you boss can fire you on the spot, without any notice.
Q: Do I need to give my boss two weeks’ notice before I quit my job?
A: You can resign at any time without notice and without giving any reason. Two weeks’ notice is not required in New York.
Q: Can my boss show preferential treatment at work to one of his relatives or friends?
A: Nepotism is legal. If a boss favors a relative or a friend over you, it is not illegal.
Q: My boss is mean to me. Can he get away with that?
A: Your boss does not have to treat you fairly. Your boss does not have to be nice to you.
Q: Does my employer have to give me health insurance, sick leave or vacation pay?
A: Your job does not have to give you health benefits or paid sick leave. You are not entitled to paid vacation. However, most jobs give some paid time off.
Q: If I’m fired, am I entitled to severance pay?
A: You are not entitled to severance pay if you are fired unless your company has a policy or practice of giving it.
Q: Can my boss change my job duties without giving me notice.
A: Your job duties can be changed at anytime without notice.
Q: Can my company eliminate benefits that I’m used to getting such as health insurance?
A: Although vested benefits, such as vacation pay which you have already earned, cannot be taken away, your company can change its benefits policies for the future, going forward.
Q: Can I be required to work overtime?
A: You can be required to work more than forty (40) hours per week, but if you have certain types of jobs (known as “non-exempt”), you must be paid time and a half for all hours worked over forty.
Q: Does my employer have to have cause to fire me?
A: No. You can be fired for any reason or no reason at all so long as it does not violate a law like the anti-discrimination laws. Your boss does not need just cause to fire you (unless your state or local law requires such and most do not).
Q: My boss curses at me all the time. Can I sue him/her for it?
A: It is not illegal for your boss to curse at you. It is unprofessional, but not illegal.
Q: If I complain about getting too much work and my boss retaliates against me, can he/she do that?
A: Retaliation is not generally illegal unless it is retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, protected discrimination (age, disability, sex, religion, national origin, race), a failure to pay wages, or complaints about “whistleblower” activities.
Q: Can I be fired because my company wants to reduce overhead?
A: Yes. Your company may fire you to save money.
Q: How long does my company have to continue to employ me?
A: If you don’t have an employment contact and if you’re not a union member, and most people do not have either, you are an “employee at will” which means you have no right to be employed for any specific period of time, and can be fired at any time.
Q: Once I complete my probationary period, do I have job security?
A: No. Just because an employee successfully completes their probationary period does not mean that they acquire any rights to continued employment.
Q: If I’m pregnant, that means my employer can’t fire me, right?
A: Just because an employee becomes pregnant doesn’t mean that she cannot be fired. It is just that she cannot be fired because she is pregnant.
Q: My medical condition is confidential. If I don’t tell my employer about it and they fire me, can I still sue for medical disability discrimination?
A: It is almost impossible to claim medical disability discrimination if you did not tell your boss or co-workers about your specific medical condition.
Q: If I have a medical condition, can I get “light duty”?
A: If you have a medical disability, you can ask your employer for a reasonable accommodation like light duty and unless your employer can demonstrate that it would cause an undue hardship, they would probably have to grant your request or a reasonable alternative accommodation.
Q: If I am pregnant, does my boss have to pay me during my maternity leave?
A: An employer has to give a pregnant woman maternity leave, but it does not have to be paid leave.
Q: How much maternity leave is a woman entitled to?
A: A pregnant woman is generally entitled to at least 6-8 weeks of maternity leave and usually more.
Q: The same boss both hired and fired me, will that make it harder to prove race discrimination.
A: If the same person both hired and fired you, it is much harder to prove race discrimination.
Q: I am an older worker who was fired and replaced by someone my own age. Can I bring an age discrimination claim?
A: Yes, but if you get laid off and are replaced by someone in your age group (generally within a few years of you), it is much harder to prove age discrimination.
Q: I slipped and fell at work. Can I sue my employer?
A: If you get injured at work, you generally cannot sue your employer, but you can file a workers’ compensation claim.
Q: Is it sexual harassment if an employee asks a co-worker out on a date?
A: It is not illegal to ask out or date a co-worker unless the sexual advances are unwelcome.
Q: Is it sexual harassment if a male employee tells a female co-worker that she’s pretty?
A: It is not sexual harassment to compliment a co-worker or to tell her she is pretty or to tell him he looks handsome.
Q: If I’m laid off, can my employer cut off my health benefits?
A: If you are laid off or fired, your employer can terminate your benefits including health insurance; however they may well need to offer you the right to continue to be covered by the former employer’s health plan, but it will be at your expense.
Q: Can my boss cut my pay?
A: Your boss can reduce your salary, so long as it is not done for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason (and remember retaliation has a specific meaning here).
Q: If I am religious, must my employer accommodate me?
A: If you are a Sabbath observer, you should be allowed to leave early to honor your observance. Your boss, however, can require you to make up the time. If you observe a religious holiday, you are entitled to the day off, unless your boss can show it would cause undue hardship. However, your boss does not have to pay you for the day.
Q: Can I be fired because my boss doesn’t like me?
A: Yes. It is legal for your boss to fired you because he/she doesn’t like you.
Q: If I get fired, can I be required to sign paperwork waiving my rights?
A: No. If you get fired or laid off, you do not have to sign anything. However, your employer can offer you money or benefits in addition to what you’re entitled to in return for your signing a document agreeing not to sue.
Q: If I break something at work, can my employer deduct the cost from my wages?
A: Generally, your employer cannot withhold money from your pay without your consent. This is true even if your company believes you owe it money. You must be paid for time worked.
Q: Before firing me, does my boss have to first give me verbal and/or written warnings?
A: No. Your company is not obligated to warn or discipline you before firing you. The procedure of issuing an employee a verbal warning, then a written warning, then a suspension followed by termination is called progressive discipline. While it’s a good process for employers to follow to protect themselves (not you), it is generally not legally required. However, if your company has a policy of doing it, but does not do it in your case, such a departure from its own procedures could be evidence of discrimination or retaliation.
Q: If I’m laid off, and my company offers me severance pay in exchange for signing an agreement waiving my rights to sue, how much time do I have to think about it?
A: If you are 40 or older and are laid off individually (as opposed to being part of a group lay-off), in order to waive your federal rights to sue for age discrimination, you must be given at least 21 days to think about it and 7 days after you sign to change your mind. If you are let go as part of a group, you get 45 days to think about it and 7 days to change your mind. If you’re under 40, you must be given a “reasonable amount of time” to consider the offer, which is generally viewed as at least a week.
Q: Am I entitled to my job back after a medical leave?
A: If you take a medical leave of absence, your employer need not hold your job open for you indefinitely. Generally, after 3-6 months out, you can be fired (under federal law, if you qualify it’s after 3 months. Under state/local laws it is generally 3-6 months at most).
Q: Does my company have to pay me the same salary that a friend of mine with the same exact job gets paid at his company?
A: While you must be paid at least the minimum wage, you don’t have to be paid a wage comparable to what a similar worker is paid at another company.
Q: My company is doing layoffs. Do they have to first lay off the person with the least seniority?
A: LIFO: Last In First Out is not legally required when a company makes lay-off decisions.
Q: I am a woman with the same job as a man at my company. Do we have to be paid the same?
A: A woman must be paid on par with a man doing the same job. If she is not, the employer will have to justify the decision.
Q: Can a man sue for sexual harassment?
A: A man can sue for sexual harassment just like a woman can.
Q: Can a white person sue for racial discrimination?
A: A white person can sue for race discrimination. It is often referred to as “reverse discrimination”.
Q: I want to get a second job to make ends meet. Is that allowed?
A: An employer can fire you for “moonlighting” if it is against their company policies.
Q: Can I be fired for emailing my friends from work?
A: An employer can prohibit you from sending personal emails or surfing the internet during work time. If you violate such a policy, you can be fired. You can send personal emails during your lunch break provided you are not using the company computer or PDA and you are not on company premises.
Q: Can I be fired for helping a co-worker with their lawsuit?
A: Generally, you cannot be fired for testifying or participating in a discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a co-worker. This would be retaliation.
Q: Can I be fired if I scream at my boss?
A: While you have a right to free speech, you can be fired if you “mouth off” at work.
Q: If I get fired illegally, can I just go to the beach every day?
A: Even if you’re fired unlawfully, you have a duty to try to find other employment (called the “duty to mitigate”) otherwise if you sue and win, your award could be reduced.
Q: Can I get unemployment benefits if I quit my job?
A: Generally you will not receive unemployment benefits if you leave your job voluntarily.
Q: If I am forced to quit my job, can I get unemployment benefits?
A: You would have to prove a “constructive discharge” which is when an employee is forced to leave his/her job. It is not easy to prove.
Q: I got laid off and am being offered a severance agreement. I want to try and negotiate a better deal. Am I running any risk?
A: If you get laid off and you’re offered a severance agreement, the employer can revoke the offer at any time unless and until both parties sign it.
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