NYC May Soon Bar Employers From Firing People For No Reason

Class War
GIF from Superstore featuring cheering employees in blue shirts

New York City may soon be catching up with the rest of the world (and Montana) when it comes to labor laws. A bill proposed last week by three NYC Council members "would prohibit employers from terminating employees without just cause" or a bona fide economic reason, ending the ridiculous practice of at-will employment. The Secure Jobs Act is an update of legislation that passed in 2021 that only covered fast food workers.

Similar to how it is done everywhere else in the world, following a probation period where an employee could be fired for any (non-discriminatory) reason, employers will only be able to fire people due to poor performance or behavior issues or because they demonstrably cannot afford to pay them.

Any employee who believes they have been fired without cause will be able to plead their case to arbitrators, in which case the employer will be required to demonstrate that the "employee violated the policy, rule or practice, failed to meet the performance standard or committed the misconduct that is the basis for progressive discipline or discharge" and that

Except where termination is for an egregious failure by the employee to perform their duties, or for egregious misconduct [...]

(i) the employee knows or should have known of the employer’s policy, rule, practice, or performance standard that is the basis for the discharge

(ii) the employer disciplined or discharged the employee based on that employee’s individual performance, irrespective of the performance of other employees, and

(iii) the employer’s policy, rule, practice, or performance standard, including the utilization of progressive discipline, was reasonable and applied consistently.

If it turns out the firing was unjust, the employer will be required to reinstate the worker if that is what they want, and pay their attorney fees.

Even for just cause firings, employers will be required to give workers 14 days notice, and five days after such notice is given will be required to provide the employee with a written document explaining the exact reason for their dismissal.

The law will also bar "the use of electronic monitoring in discharging or disciplining employees."

The usual practice in the United States (except Montana) is that an employer can fire a worker for practically any non-discriminatory reason other than looking to start a union, but the onus is on the employee to prove that they were fired for an illegal reason, which can often be very difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Also, federally, employers with fewer than 15 employees are in fact free to fire people for discriminatory reasons (though some states go lower).

It's not easy for someone to prove they were fired for discriminatory reasons, especially when an employer can easily lie and say they fired the person because they were in a mood and felt like firing someone on a whim that day or because they didn't like their socks. It also frequently costs a lot of money to hire a lawyer and a lot of time to pursue the case.

Putting the onus on the employer to prove someone was justly fired makes a whole lot more sense and, frankly, requires far less work for everyone involved.

The only reason we do things in this convoluted way is to preserve the "freedom" of employers to fire people for whatever stupid reason they want, but that freedom comes with a very big price tag, not just for workers but for everyone.

The price may be that someone may not want to move to an expensive city like New York City for a job, knowing they could lose that job for no reason.

The price may be economic — that the person has to move out of their apartment, has to file for unemployment and perhaps rely on other social services, can't help the economy by spending money and will have difficulty digging themself out of that hole because "it's easier to get a job when you have a job."

Though why we've decided that last one is at all acceptable is definitely something to consider for another day.

I have been saying for some time now that this is an issue Democrats absolutely need to jump on. Not only does it solve a host of social and economic problems without spending a dime of taxpayer money (and probably saving some in the long run), not only is it a far more effective means of handling workplace discrimination than our current set-up, but the fact is, I think most people would really just like to be able to go to work and do their jobs and plan for their futures without the ever-looming terror that one day a new manager is going to come in and just fire everyone because "they want their own team."

Not to mention the fact that, were it passed, it would absolutely demolish much of the Right's "cancel culture" nonsense. One of the ways they've really been able to propagandize people is with their evidence-free claims that "people are getting fired just for having a different opinion or loving Donald Trump!" Pushing for an end to at-will employment calls them on their bluff.

I hope this passes in NYC and that it starts a a national push to end the very bad practice of firing people for no reason. Because it's bad, it's stupid and Americans simply should not have to live this way. We deserve better.

Do your Amazon shopping through this link, because reasons.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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