Five Laws That Protect You During Layoffs
Dona DeZube | Monster Finance Careers Expert
December 03, 2009
Being laid off is an emotional event that can leave you feeling wronged. Knowing the difference between an illegal layoff and an unfair layoff can help you decide whether to fight or move on.
“It’s difficult for employees to see layoffs from an objective perspective,” says Marilyn Conyer, vice president of Accord Human Resources, an Oklahoma City HR consulting firm. “Many times when employees lay out the facts of a layoff, we don’t think it’s fair either, but there’s nothing illegal about what the company did.”
Employment in most states is “at will,” meaning you can quit or the company can fire you without cause. However, companies still have to follow federal and state employment laws covering issues such as discrimination, whistleblowing and layoff notices.
Five major federal laws protect laid-off employees. States have their own laws about employment, so to be sure your layoff wasn’t illegal, check with a local attorney.
How can you tell if your layoff was discriminatory? Consider all the reasons you were laid off, says Sarah Beth Johnson, an attorney at Fox Rothschild LLP in Atlantic City. If there’s even one other explanation for why you were let go, the discrimination charge likely won’t stick.
“If you’re the worst employee ever and you’re older, that’s not enough,” she says. “It really has to be that you were told you’re too old for the job, or you’re a black woman who can point to a white male who’s your peer in every way and you got laid off and he didn’t.”
It is legal to lay off a highly paid older worker. “If I can fire you and hire two people for your salary who do twice the work, I’m allowed to do that,” Johnson says.
If you think discrimination played a part in your layoff, contact a lawyer or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will listen to your story, question your former employer, make a finding and issue a right-to-sue letter you can take to an attorney, Conyer says. You can sue regardless of whether the EEOC finds in your favor.