The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused many issues for industries and workers, including employee layoffs. A company will lay off an employee when they feel they can no longer justify the expense of a salary, benefits, and more. However, some layoffs might be because of discrimination.
Can My Employer Lay Me Off During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Businesses can lay off employees in an “at-will” employment state, given that employment discrimination is not a factor in the decision. Being laid off can be so stressful that employees immediately look for another job instead of investigating wrongdoings.
While being laid off is a traumatic experience, not all layoffs are illegal. When a business is discriminating against employees, indicators may be easy to see if employees know what to look for. Employees need to be watchful for these warning signs, and they must document any suspected discrimination.
What Signs Indicate Employment Discrimination?
As a business plans to lay off employees in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic or any other financial disaster, there may be warnings that indicate employment discrimination. Signs of discrimination may include the following:
- The employee who was laid off belongs to a protected class.
- That employee was working satisfactorily and would not have been otherwise terminated.
- The employee was laid off, but the reason was centered around financial difficulty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The employee was replaced by someone who is not a member of a protected class shortly after the layoff took place.
- Employees may have heard rumors around the office about a particular class of people who would be let go.
Knowing what to look for may help a worker determine if their employer is discriminating against employees. An older employee might be replaced by a younger employee, or a group of women is replaced by men. Additionally, minorities who were laid off are replaced with Caucasian workers. A sudden turn in hiring practices could signal unlawful discrimination.
What Should I Do if I Suspect Discrimination?
When employees start to see the signs of discrimination, they should document as much as they can. If one overhears a conversation that seems discriminatory, one should record as much detail as possible. It is important to record each occurrence.
Evidence can be documented by an attorney, and an investigation will show that the selection of laid off employees suggests employment discrimination.
Does My Employer Carry the Burden of Proof?
If a concerned employee who was recently laid off reaches out to a lawyer, the employer must also show that they did not participate in discriminatory practices. A lawyer can establish a pattern of discrimination in recent layoffs, and the employer will try to refute these claims.
This is why it is imperative that terminated employees reach out to an attorney instead of trying to investigate on their own. Someone who is not represented by an attorney cannot prove that the company was engaging in discriminatory practices. Putting the burden of proof on the employer after a pattern of discrimination has been established is important.
How Might Employers Try to Hide Discrimination?
Employers often go to great lengths to hide discrimination. These companies have carefully chosen older, disabled, minority, female, or other employees to lay off under the guise of the financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. An employer will likely start a termination letter that contains details about these uncertain times during the pandemic and how they must save money.
When the employer uses salary and money as reasons to lay off an employee, it may sound wise at first. Generally, a worker understands that businesses want to make money. The employer, however, might use certain words to hide discrimination.
When an employer excuses layoffs by saying they need cheaper labor, it may indicate age discrimination. Showing that all the laid off workers are over 40 years old makes the case easier to prove. New job postings that center on a new vision for the company and digital fluency, which is often found in younger workers, may also reveal discrimination.
When a company mentions early retirement, it may sound great, but this can be deceiving. Early retirement might be another way to get rid of older employees. The retirement package might be the only other option outside of termination and it might be offered only to certain people.
For example, three women in the office get laid off, but they were offered early retirement as an incentive. They feel as though they cannot complain, even though the only people who were laid off were older women.
Layoffs may seem legitimate on the surface, but they do not hold up when the employer is attempting to hide its true intentions.
How Can I Protect My Rights?
When employees have been laid off, they have 180 days from the date of termination to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
While the EEOC can and will investigate the case, an employee should hire an attorney who will investigate on their own. A lawyer can investigate the case, file a claim against the business, and discover new evidence. The EEOC is overworked and underfunded, but an attorney who does this work every day can uncover any wrongdoings if they exist.
Why Should I Hire a Lawyer?
Hiring an employment lawyer is a safe way to investigate the case and determine if it has merit. The laid off employee is often overwhelmed and looking for new work. They are not in a position to evaluate the case. When discrimination is evident, the lawyer also looks into the strategies that can be used to litigate the case.
As mentioned above, there are different levels of proof in a discrimination case. Terminated employees cannot be expected to understand their burden of proof and the employer’s burden of proof. A lawyer who has trained and worked in employment law understands how employers cover their tracks and use creative language to hide the truth.
A company that has illegally laid off workers will have a team of lawyers waiting to protect their interests. The employee needs a lawyer who knows how to negotiate, how to overcome objections from the employer, and how to formulate a case that will make sense to the court, an arbitrator, and a jury. Laid off workers should not go to court alone.
Philadelphia Employment Discrimination Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect Discriminated Workers During the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic
Speak to one of our accomplished Philadelphia employment discrimination lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. when you suspect your employer is discriminating against workers. Call us today 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.