In New York, employment laws are referred to as “labor standards,” although functionally, they operate in the same way as laws do. These standards are intended to protect employees while simultaneously ensuring employers are free to make sound business decisions. These standards cover a wide breadth of subjects, including:

What Is “At Will” Employment?

New York is an “at will” employment state, meaning an employer may be able to fire an employee without due cause if there is no employment contract restricting firing. Similarly, an employee is able to resign at any time without fear of any contractual or other legal consequences.

Some exceptions to the “at will” rule include discharge based on any of the following:

  • Race
  • Creed
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status

New York also protects about discharge for political or recreational activities outside of work, legal use of consumable products outside of work, and for membership in a union.

New York Wages and Overtime

New York has several standards controlling the minimum amount of money an employee must earn, and when more or less money may be legally due.

1. Minimum Wage – Beginning on December 31, 2013, New York initiated a hike in their minimum wage. Currently, the minimum wage is $8.00. By December 31, 2014, the minimum wage will increase from $8.00 to $8.75. By December 31, 2015, the minimum wage will increase again to $9.00.

2. Overtime – New York follows similar rules to the federal minimum wage laws and exemptions. If a covered employee works more than 40 hours in a pay period, they are entitled to “time and a half” of their normal rate of pay. If an employee is a “live-in” worker, such as a nanny, they are entitled to an increased rate of pay after 44 hours.

Some employees are exempt from overtime pay, such as:

  • Commissioned sales persons
  • Computer professionals making at least $27.63 an hour
  • Driver’s and mechanics
  • Farm workers
  • Seasonal employees

3. Withheld Wages – An employer cannot, without a reason provided by law, withhold wages or make illegal deductions. If an employee believes they have been victim of withheld wages or illegal deductions, they must file a report with the Division of Labor Standards.

An employer can only deduct for certain things, such as overpayment, pensions, or food and lodging.

Protection from Discrimination

Federal law prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Protected classes include:

  • Race
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability
  • Age (if 40 or older)
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information

New York state law protects against:

  • Age, lowing the bar to 18 and older
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Perceived sexual orientation
  • Lawful use of any product
  • Lawful recreational activities when not at work
  • Military status or service
  • Political activities
  • Observing a religious day of rest
  • Political activities
  • Use of a service dog
  • Accusation of a crime
  • Status as a domestic violence victim

What Are Some Protections from Sexual Harassment?

In addition to federal law, New York has strict standards forbidding sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

It is a violation of sexual harassment law when submission to the sexual suggestion is either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment. It is also unlawful where the rejection of an inappropriate advance or suggestion is used as the basis for employment decisions.

Finally, it is also illegal where the purpose, or effect, of the advance unreasonably interferes with a person’s work performance, or otherwise creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated or otherwise treated illegally under New York’s labor laws, you should speak with a New York employment lawyer immediately. An attorney who is familiar with New York’s laws and standards will be able to represent your best interests and help you secure the right result.