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Could a recent layoff constitute wrongful termination?

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2023 | Wrongful Termination

The loss of a job can serve as a dire financial setback for someone with a mortgage and/or a family to support. The more highly-compensated a worker is and the larger the number of workers let go simultaneously, the greater the likelihood that they may struggle to find comparable employment nearby in a timely manner. Large-scale terminations, like layoffs after a merger, often result in a glut of workers on the market and a dearth of comparable positions.

Someone who has been let go as part of a layoff may eventually start noticing a pattern that connects them with the other workers let go at the same time or may believe that their inclusion in the layoff occurred because they reported sexual harassment or requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Could a layoff by an employer constitute wrongful termination?

Any job loss could lead to claims of wrongful termination

A worker’s right to be free from retaliatory acts and discrimination does not simply disappear if the company only temporarily downsizes but hopes to rehire some of the workers later. A layoff, like an actual termination, will typically result in the cessation of someone’s income and all of the practical challenges that come along with that sudden economic shift. Many workers do not have enough in savings to cover more than a few weeks or months of household expenses, so a sudden layoff will put them in a bind. All too often, they focus so much on getting a new job that they never push back against the misconduct of their former employers. When is the layoff wrongful?

The same rules that apply to firings apply to layoffs

Employers should not disproportionately include workers with certain protected characteristics in the pool of workers laid off by the company. Race, age, sex and religion are among the protected characteristics that employers should not consider when deciding who to lay off during a downsizing or restructuring effort. When all of the workers over the age of 50 or belonging to a certain religion lose their jobs at once, the layoff could be wrongful because discrimination occurred.

Other times, there may not be a specific pattern in the layoffs, but the company chooses to include workers who recently engaged in protected workplace activities. Attempting to unionize with coworkers, reporting workplace misconduct and seeking medical accommodations are all activities that should not result in an employer punishing the worker.

Realizing that a layoff could be the result of discrimination or retaliation might help someone more effectively push back when they lose their job in a manner that seems patently unfair and/or unlawful.