What Is the Professional Exception to Employment At-Will Termination?

As described in our earlier blog article, there are exceptions to at-will employment terminations, making them unlawful, and termination based on discrimination is one of them. Another unlawful reason for termination under New York case law is the professional exception.

The New York State Bar published an article that explains the professional exception. In the case Wieder v. Skala, Wieder was a civil litigation attorney associated with the Skala law firm (defendant in the case). Wieder discovered that one of the firm’s partners made a mistake in a real estate transaction and covered it up. When he confronted the partner, the partner admitted he had “lied about the real estate transaction and later admitted in writing that he had committed several acts of legal malpractice and fraud and deceit.” Weidner reported the misconduct to the Appellate Division Disciplinary Committee as required by the Code of Professional Responsibility under the New York State Bar. The firm fired him for reporting the misconduct and Wieder sued for wrongful termination. The court ruled in favor of Wieder, finding that there was a professional exception to the at-will employment rule based on the New York Bar’s Code of Professional Responsibility. However, in cases that did not involve members of the New York Bar, the court did not find that a professional exception applied. It ruled that in these other types of cases, such instances are best left to the New York Legislature. The legislature has not passed any laws to clarify this point and subsequently, there is no legal recourse to being fired for reporting illegal activities in most employment situations.

If you are a business owner and have questions or unsure about whether an employee termination is legal, it is wise to consult with an experienced employment litigation lawyer.

Stephan Hans & Associates is a well-established employment litigation firm located in Long Island City, Queens and our employment litigation experience dates back to 1979.

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