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Will layoffs trigger complaints of employment discrimination?

On Behalf of | Jan 23, 2023 | Employment Law For Employers |

Layoffs sometimes become necessary for a company’s financial stability. Maybe the organization expanded too quickly during a time of success and has now been struggling to cover the costs of operating multiple different facilities. Perhaps your company recently merged with another business, and now there are dozens of redundant positions.

Companies initiate layoffs to streamline operations, remain solvent and minimize expenses. Unfortunately, layoffs can lead to very expensive employment law claims that harm a company when it is at its most vulnerable. Sometimes, terminating multiple workers at once will lead to allegations of discrimination.

Why would layoffs lead to discrimination claims from the workers let go by the company?

They claim there is a trend hidden within the company’s decisions

When workers allege discrimination following layoffs or large-scale terminations, their claims often have a basis in the company’s choices. For example, maybe workers of a certain race were disproportionately represented among those laid off, or perhaps the company let go of all of its female workers at once.

If there is a trend related to any protected characteristic, including age, religion, race, sex, medical condition and disability, workers might claim that the company targeted them unfairly for termination rather than making neutral decisions based on seniority or job performance.

They claim the timing is retaliatory

If a company announces mass layoffs the week after workers attempt to unionize or there is a complaint about safety in the workplace to management, the decision to let those workers go may begin to look retaliatory.

Technically, workers asserting their rights to unionize with one another or demand a safe environment should not face punishment from the company for doing so. If the timing of the layoffs seems suspect to others, they may initiate a lawsuit. However, there may be very clear internal records showing that the process was already in progress for months before whatever the plaintiffs considered to be the precipitating incident.

Workers unhappy about losing their jobs will often do whatever they think is necessary to secure their employment again if possible. Recognizing when your business could be at risk of an employment law claim following layoffs or downsizing efforts can help prevent such claims in the future.