Have you ever wondered if someone can be fired from a job simply for requesting time off to see a doctor or care for a sick child? Or for asking to know their schedule in advance so they could arrange child care? Sounds wrong, right? It is. In fact, it’s not just wrong – it’s against the law.
In New York City, it’s illegal to retaliate against a worker for exercising a right under the Paid Safe and Sick Leave and Fair Workweek laws. These laws give most workers the right to paid safe and sick leave, and give fast food and retail workers the right to predictable schedules and to extra pay when their schedules are changed without notice.
Unfortunately, as a supervising lawyer at the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), I know too well that many employers still haven’t gotten the memo. My team and I have seen numerous cases where workers have been punished for asking for a benefit that’s available to them under these laws – everything from fewer hours on the schedule, to suspensions, to losing their job. We take any retaliatory action against a worker for exercising their rights very seriously.
We’ve helped people facing a variety of situations: A prep cook who was fired after taking just one shift off to go to the hospital; a hotel manager fired for asking to leave mid-shift after vomiting and nearly fainting in the bathroom; a barista fired for declining to work a shift that he wasn’t scheduled for on a day he didn’t normally work; a cashier at a clothing chain fired after requesting time off to watch her sick son who had been sent home by his school; an elderly janitor fired for missing one shift due to an eye infection so bad she had to see a doctor. The list goes on and on. All types of employers – small shops, enormous national chains, and everyone in between – fire workers who ask for basic things that they are legally entitled to. But it isn’t just illegal, it’s demeaning and even dangerous to workers.
Our mayor has led the fight to pass these laws so that working New Yorkers can better care for themselves and their families. Here at DCWP, we enforce these laws and quickly address complaints from any worker who reports an actual or threatened retaliatory firing. We speak with you, we speak with your employer, and we gather the documentation and evidence needed to assess if there was a violation. We then try to come to a mutually acceptable resolution as quickly as possible – or we go to court if necessary.
We work quickly to resolve the issue because we know that losing one’s job is devastating for a worker. It means a lost paycheck, a scary sense of uncertainty, and a lost sense of day-to-day purpose and community. We want to resolve these problems as quickly as we can, whether that means getting the worker back on the job, preventing a firing in the first place, or collecting money from the employer that, under the law, is owed to the worker for illegal retaliation. This restitution a worker can receive can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
I’m proud to say that many of those who have courageously come forward and filed a complaint with our office have received restitution. In some cases, they even get their jobs back, if they still want them.
While it’s true that in NYC you can be fired for almost any reason – no matter how unfair, petty or even absurd it seems – you cannot be fired based on discrimination of your sex, gender, religion or ethnicity.
And despite what some employers may think, you cannot be fired for exercising the rights you have as a worker in New York City, including rights to paid safe and sick leave and fair scheduling, or for any discriminatory reason. The City is committed to ensuring that the laws Mayor De Blasio fought to pass are enforced to not only protect, but empowering, hardworking New Yorkers.
The City is here for you – Know your rights and stand up for them. Contact DCWP today if you feel your rights have been violated – we’re here to fight for you.
-Haeya Yim is Senior Enforcement Counsel at the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP).