Is a mass layoff a way to cover up employment discrimination?

For workers, a job is a source of income and often a major contributing factor to their self-esteem, so losing a job due to a termination or layoff can feel like a personal attack. Job loss may also lead to financial hardship very quickly, especially in scenarios where there were multiple terminations at once that leads to a glut of skilled workers all looking for jobs at once.

For businesses, employment contracts provide them with labor and talent but also create many financial obligations. During economic downturns or after a merger with another company, businesses sometimes have to reduce their staff rosters through large-scale terminations or layoffs. The terminated workers may feel unfairly targeted by such efforts and may even claim that the layoff was a cover for employment discrimination. Is it possible for a worker to claim wrongful termination by way of discrimination when they were not the only one laid off from their job?

Layoffs can be a form of discrimination

Businesses cannot control the economy as a whole nor the pressures that shareholders may put on the organization to maximize profit. However, employers can be very fastidious and cautious when making decisions about who to retain and who to let go while downsizing or adjusting staffing levels after a merger.

Generally, layoffs and other terminations should be fair, which means that they should not be retaliatory nor should they take into consideration workers’ protected characteristics. If nearly everyone over the age of 40 gets laid off at once or most of the people let go belong to the same race, those can be warning signs that the layoff is actually a cover-up for widespread discrimination at the company.

Businesses have a responsibility to review employment decisions to ensure that they have not disproportionately terminated female workers or members of a certain religion. Companies that don’t acknowledge that people in management or human resources could let their personal biases influence decisions about layoffs and other mass terminations could potentially end up facing discrimination lawsuits.

Connecting a termination or layoff to one’s protected characteristics by looking at the overall group of people terminated or communications from the company may help someone who has been laid off feel rightfully empowered to pursue a wrongful termination or discrimination claim against a former employer.

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