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NYC sets limits for firing quick-service workers

Employers at chain-affiliated restaurants can only act on a stated “just cause” or proven economic distress.
Photograph: Shutterstock

In what’s believed to be a first, New York City has enacted legislation that limits the circumstances under which employees of a chain-affiliated quick-service restaurant can be fired or have their hours cut by at least 15%.  

“Bona-fide economic reasons” are acceptable under the new laws, provided the employer hires in reverse order of seniority—the last hired is the first fired. Proof of financial hardship is required.

Otherwise, local units of a chain can only dismiss an employee for “just cause,” defined by the bill as “failure to satisfactorily perform job duties or engaging in misconduct that is harmful to the fast food employer’s legitimate business interests,” according to the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

The just cause needs to be spelled out in a written document provided to the employee within five days of dismissal. The new laws set up an arbitration system for determining if the just-cause standard applies.

“The fast-food employer shall bear the burden of proving just cause,” the bill states. 

Unless an infraction is “egregious,” employers can’t fire an individual until he or she first undergoes “progressive discipline,” or set steps that are designed to correct the unacceptable behavior. The curative measures have to be spelled out in writing.

The legislation signed this week by the mayor also requires quick-service chain units to re-hire employees who were let go during the pandemic before they recruit newcomers to the staff. It recommends but does not require employers to increase the hours of current staff members before hiring new workers.

All of the stipulations only apply to units of quick-service chains with at least 30 branches nationwide. Nor do they apply to any employee during his or her first 30 days on the job.

The restrictions and requirements are contained in two bills that were signed by de Blasio. The City Council approved the measures in mid-December

“A strong, fair recovery starts with protecting working people,” de Blasio said in a statement. “These bills will provide crucial job stability and protections for fast-food workers on the front lines.

"New York City is the first city in the country to pass just cause protections that stop billion-dollar fast-food corporations from unfairly firing workers,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in the statement issued by the mayor’s office. “This incredible win for working families shows the power fast-food workers have built together.”

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