There are two important things for foreign employees to remember when negotiating or signing an employment agreement in the United States, particularly in New York.
First, there are states, counties, towns and cities. They pass laws and regulations, in a complicated, and occasionally confrontational, dance with the federal government. Usually, if their laws are most restrictive, those laws “layer” on top of federal law, i.e., they are additional requirements. For example, in New York City, there are a host of new laws passed in the last 5-6 years that provide additional restrictions in at least a dozen areas on employer abuses. Few foreign executives really understand this interplay and one can hardly blame them.
Second, to paraphrase Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.” Each state has different employment laws and sometimes they are unpredictable. For example, while all fifty states are technically “employment at will” states, meaning the employees can be fired at any time for any lawful reason, there are many exceptions to this doctrine and some exist in some states but not in others. In New York City, there are three (!) layers of State, City and Federal laws and regulations.
So when the employer puts an “at will” clause in your contract it will be upheld by the Court. Well, probably. Ok, in New York City, maybe. Or, as every American lawyer has said more times than he or she can remember, “it depends.”