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Termination is an inevitable aspect that every employer must navigate with diligence and understanding. In New York, like in many jurisdictions, there are specific laws and regulations governing the process of terminating an employee. Whether you’re a seasoned HR professional or a small business owner, understanding these guidelines is crucial to ensure compliance and minimize potential legal risks. If you do not have the support of a trusted HR professional like an Employer of Record (EOR), termination can be daunting. So, let’s delve into what you need to know about terminating an employee in the state of New York.

At-Will Employment Doctrine:

New York follows the doctrine of at-will employment, which means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason, as long as it’s not illegal. Similarly, an employee can also resign from their position at any time, for any reason. However, certain exceptions to this doctrine exist, and understanding them is vital to avoid wrongful termination claims.

Exceptions to At-Will Employment:

While at-will employment is the default in New York, there are exceptions that limit an employer’s ability to terminate an employee without cause. These exceptions include:

  • Implied Contract: If an employer makes promises of job security either verbally or in writing, it may create an implied contract, thus limiting the at-will nature of employment.
  • Public Policy: Employers cannot terminate an employee for reasons that violate public policy, such as retaliation for whistleblowing or discrimination.
  • Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: Employers are prohibited from terminating employees in bad faith or with malice.

Relevant Employment Law

Understanding these exceptions is crucial to avoid wrongful termination claims and potential legal consequences.

Notice and Severance Pay:

New York State does not mandate employers to provide advance notice or severance pay to terminated employees. However, employment contracts, collective bargaining agreements, or company policies may require such provisions. It’s essential to review these documents and comply with any obligations outlined therein.

Final Paycheck Requirements:

Upon termination, employers in New York must provide the employee with their final paycheck by the next regular payday. This paycheck must include all wages earned up to the termination date, including accrued vacation time, if applicable.

Employee Benefits:

Employers must also consider the impact of termination on employee benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and any other benefits provided. COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) may allow terminated employees to continue their health insurance coverage for a limited time at their own expense.

Documentation and Due Diligence:

Proper documentation is essential throughout the termination process. This includes documenting performance issues, disciplinary actions, and the reasons for termination. Additionally, conducting thorough investigations into any allegations before terminating an employee is crucial to mitigate the risk of legal action.

Avoiding Discrimination and Retaliation:

Employers must ensure that termination decisions are based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. Terminating an employee based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, age, religion, disability, or sexual orientation is illegal and can lead to costly legal battles. Similarly, retaliating against employees for exercising their legal rights, such as filing complaints or participating in investigations, is strictly prohibited.


Terminating an employee is a complex process that requires careful consideration of legal requirements, company policies, and ethical considerations. In New York, employers must navigate the intricacies of at-will employment while adhering to exceptions, providing final paychecks, and safeguarding against discrimination and retaliation claims.

By understanding the legal framework, documenting decisions thoroughly, and treating employees with fairness and respect, employers can mitigate the risks associated with termination and maintain a positive workplace environment. Consulting with legal professionals when in doubt can provide valuable guidance and ensure compliance with New York state laws and regulations.

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