Series of Labor Laws: New York vs. Puerto Rico At-Will Employment vs. Just Cause

Series of Labor Laws: New York vs. Puerto Rico At-Will Employment vs. Just Cause

New York State, along with almost every single other state in the nation, is an at-will employment jurisdiction.  Some states allow for exceptions such as public policy, however, as a general rule, the United States is known to be an at-will employment country.  Nonetheless, there are a few jurisdictions under its purview, such as Puerto Rico, where labor laws may be more employee-friendly and beneficial to its citizens. 

What is “At-Will” Employment?

When you accept an “at-will” employment offer, you are agreeing to enter into an indefinite-term employment position.  In simple terms, being an “at-will” employee means that either you or your employer are able to terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all, so long as it is not contrary to the law (e.g., for any protected characteristic such as national origin, disability, sex, etc.). 

You may provide a reason for leaving your job, however, you are not required to do so.  In addition, your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you for whistle blowing (reporting bad acts by the employer), taking medical or disability leaves, filing for worker’s compensation, as well as other activities protected under the law.

What is “Just Cause”?

In Puerto Rico, the “at-will” employment doctrine does not apply.  In order for an employer to fire an employee that has agreed to an indefinite-term employment relationship, the individual must be terminated for just cause.  If an employee is fired without just cause, the employee is entitled to receive a statutory discharge indemnity, or severance payment, which is calculated based on the length of service and the statutory formula.  Act 80 (the Unjust Dismissal Act), as amended, regulates these types of terminations.  Under the Act, “just cause” includes, but is not limited to: engaging in a pattern of improper or disorderly conduct; failing to work efficiently or working negligently, or in violation of norms of product quality; total, temporary or partial closure of operations; among others.

Pros and Cons

As an employer, at-will employment provides flexibility to be able to reduce labor costs in an expedited manner.

As an employee, you also have the ability to leave a job that no longer suits you without having to work any notice period.  Career advancement and flexibility are some of the common reasons to leave a position.

Which employment status do you prefer?  Do you think New York State should adopt the just cause standard applied in Puerto Rico?

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