New York City Council Imposes Stricter Discipline Protection of Fast Food Employees

Feb 24, 2021 04:54 AM EST | By Erika Dee (

Fast Food Employees

(Photo : Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels)

In the middle of a raging pandemic, the least thing ordinary income-earners would want is to be let off one's work. However, given how the COVID-19 has affected businesses across industries, including the fast food industry, some employers might be tempted to lay off their employees without a moment's notice.

No Firing At-Will

While this is a hard issue to solve - since it is difficult to know for sure whose interests in the middle of the pandemic should be protected, the New York City Council has already stepped its foot down and passed two bills that would limit employers' ability to just discharge their employees. 

The two bills are reportedly an expansion of the Fair Workweek Law. Under these new legislations, employers are only ever allowed to terminate employees only for "just cause" or for a "bona fide economic reason," as reported by the National Law Review

These stricter requirements effectively remove the at-will status of fast food employees and create a discipline structure akin to that usually bargained for by unionized workforces. Fast food employees are usually not afforded this kind of protection, so this can be taken as a move towards the right direction. 

The only drawback is that the bills are only setting effect in the second half of the year or on July 4, 2021. On the other hand, a little delay is a must since employers need to make some adjustments themselves to observe these new laws.

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Up until these new bills are enforced, quick-service restaurant workers are classified as at-will employees. This means they can be removed from their work for whatever reason the employer deems logical. The new laws effectively remove instances where employers fire fast food employees based on whims or emotional judgments. 

To be fired only because a just cause exists means a fast food employee only stands to employment if his or her performance is not satisfactory or he or she has acted in a way that is materially harmful to the business. With these new laws, employees cannot be fired unless either of these reasons is apparent. Any offense that falls short of either of these reasons cannot be deemed enough to fire an offending employee. 

The new laws have it that fast food employees can also be fired for "bona fide economic reason." This is something so much more out of the employees' hands, but this reason makes sense. This means if the business has to undergo a "full or partial" closing or some other business-related changes linked to a significant "reduction in the volume of production, sales, or profit," employees can be discharged. In such cases, the removal just might do the employee good since it is hard to feel a sense of job security anyway when the business in itself is in some financial trouble.

Stricter Discipline Requirements 

Under the new rule, if a bona fide economic reason exists, employers can only discharge employees in reverse order of seniority.

The two laws are truly in favor of the employees because the burden of proof also lies with the employers looking to discharge some employees. 

When thinking about removing employees, the employer must demonstrate that one of the two permissible conditions for discharge exists.

Employers are not without recourse if they have erring employees that they cannot just fire. Instead, if there is a reason to, fast food employers can use a progressive discipline structure to get them in shape. This includes carrying out gradual responses to an employee's performance issues and misconduct.

This progressive discipline program can even be documented in writing so employees can take the firm seriously. Before just-cause firing as a result of an employee failing to improve under a progressive discipline program can be made, employers have to show:

1. employees know what they violated and know about the rule that made their action a violation

2. employees were given adequate training

3. the policy or rule violated was reasonably and consistently applied in the past

4. the poor performance or violation was investigated properly and fairly

5. that actual violation existed.

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