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Employment Contracts and At-Will Employees


New York is an “employment-at-will” state.  Without a contract governing employment, such as an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement, an employee is employed at-will and the employer has the right to terminate employment at any time for any reason or no reason, so long as the termination does not violate the anti-discrimination statutes and is not otherwise unlawful.  An at-will employee similarly has the ability to terminate his or her employment at any time and for any reason.

In some circumstances, an employer may determine to enter into written contracts of employment with its employees.  Well-drafted employment contracts set forth the terms of the working relationship and define the parties’ rights and responsibilities.  However, an employer must be mindful that contracts setting forth a duration of employment alter the at-will status and place undue limitations on an employer’s ability to terminate an employee at-will.

This section will discuss certain limited exceptions to the at-will doctrine.  It will also discuss key issues to consider when preparing and entering into an employment contract and the impact of a contract on at-will status.  Finally, the section will address employee handbooks and issues to consider when drafting to avoid inadvertent contractual obligations.  This section is designed to provide a general overview of these topics and does not constitute legal advice.  Please consult with an attorney on specific issues regarding employment contracts and at-will employees.

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