Those who have invested in their careers usually want to remain employed until they are ready to retire. However, some people lose their jobs unexpectedly to a termination or a layoff. Such decisions are often made by employers seeking to maximize profits or address issues with the way the company operates.
It is perfectly legal for an organization to lay off and terminate workers for many different reasons. However, there are scenarios in which the end of someone’s employment arrangements might actually be a wrongful termination. When might someone be able to take legal action after a layoff leaves them unemployed?
When they suspect retaliation or discrimination
At-will employment laws give businesses quite a bit of leeway regarding the decisions they make about workers. Companies can terminate a worker with no notice and without any real justification. Still, they cannot terminate a worker for an illegal reason. Layoffs and large-scale terminations could easily hide discrimination or attempts to retaliate against specific employees. Discrimination might become obvious when looking at the pool of workers involved in the layoff. If there is disproportionate representation of one group of employees, such as workers over the age of 40 or female staff members, then the company may have considered protected characteristics when deciding who to retain.
If a worker suspects retaliation, then it will likely be the timing of the layoff and their decision to engage in protected workplace activities that raise questions about their employer’s decision. For example, companies might fire workers who meet with others to unionize or those that report sexual harassment. They could also lay off or fire those who have asked for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or requested accommodations for a disabling medical condition.
Provided that workers have evidence supporting their claim that their employer considered protected characteristics or protected workplace activities when deciding to lay them off, those workers may be able to take action against the company for wrongful termination. Understanding that layoffs aren’t always entirely legal may help workers worried about supporting themselves after an unexpected job loss to make more informed choices about a situation that may have unfolded in ways that violated their legal rights.