Although the law generally allows employers to terminate a worker’s job at any point, even without a specific reason for doing so, there are still certain types of terminations that are against the law. For example, employers cannot fire a worker because of their legally protected characteristics, like their age, race or sex. Additionally, businesses cannot terminate a worker’s employment because that employee engaged in protected workplace activities, such as discussing their wages with coworkers or asking for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
When only one worker loses their job, they may quickly become suspicious of their employer’s motive for terminating them. However, when a company terminates multiple workers simultaneously, it can be more difficult to establish the true underlying cause of that decision. As a result, businesses will sometimes use mass firing while downsizing or layoffs after a merger as a way to hide what is actually a wrongful termination. How can workers protect themselves from this type of employer misconduct?
They look at the timing and the other people affected
Those who suspect that their inclusion in a mass termination or layoff was a wrongful act have a few different ways of validating that belief. The first would involve proving that the decision came on the heels of the worker engaging in protected activities, particularly if the worker otherwise had an excellent work history. Other times, it may be an analysis of the pool of workers terminated that can help someone establish that their firing was wrongful.
If most of the workers over the age of 40 lose their jobs at the same time or if they have disproportionate representation among the pool of people let go, that could be a sign of discrimination. An inappropriate amount of people who share protected characteristics losing their jobs at the same time could be a sign that the company may have considered factors that it legally cannot when deciding who to retain and who to fire.
Particularly in situations where multiple people with the same protected characteristic(s) lose their jobs simultaneously, it may be necessary to work together to hold an employer accountable. Pursuing a wrongful termination lawsuit could lead to either financial compensation and also consequences for the business if certain criteria are met. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to determine whether one’s circumstances are actionable.