With the coronavirus pandemic at large, and shelter-in-place rules sweeping the country, many businesses have found themselves being forced to shut down hiring and turning to furloughs or layoffs just to stay afloat. Now millions of U.S. workers are being furloughed as the coronavirus has brought the economy to a virtual standstill and left nearly 25 million people filing for unemployment benefits in the past five weeks. Regrettably, many of these employers are using this opportunity to discriminate against employees for their race, religion, pregnancy, disability, age, national origin, or any other protected status under the law. Forbes has fittingly dubbed these unlawful employment practices as “coronavirus scapegoating,” and it is not something that should be taken lightly, as employment laws do still apply. In an already tense time, the uncertainty of sudden job loss can only add to the stress and anxiety of what’s going on, so it’s important for employees to know the facts and remain vigilant of their rights.
What does it mean to be furloughed?
A furlough is a mandatory temporary leave of absence from which the employee is expected to return to work or to be restored from a reduced work schedule; often used when the employer does not have enough cash for payroll or when there is not enough work for all employees during a slow period. A layoff is mostly a description of a type of termination in which the employee holds no blame. An employer may have reason to believe or hope it will be able to recall workers back to work from a layoff (such as a restaurant during the pandemic), and, for that reason, may call the layoff “temporary,” although it may end up being a permanent situation. Companies that lay off workers typically pay for severance and outplacement services, and then later may face costs when they’re ready to hire again. But furloughs don’t bring those costs and could help companies get back up to speed quickly when they can bring workers back online.
How Does an Employee Know the COVID-19 Termination Is Discriminatory?
Layoffs or terminations may indeed be necessary during this unprecedented time, but people should be laid off or fired for unbiased reasons. Employment in almost all states is at will, so an employer can fire an employee, or an employee can quit their job, for any reason unless the employment contract provides otherwise, or the termination violates a law. This means that an employer can lay off an employee due to financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, and the employee cannot sue for wrongful termination on this basis, but an employee can sue for discrimination or harassment that occurred during their employment, outside the context of their termination. However, there are signs that your employer is actually using the Coronavirus reduction in force to terminate employees illegally. This could include terminations that only target employees who are over the age of 40, terminations of employees requesting Paid Family Leave, Asian-American employees that are laid off indefinitely, Pregnant employees being the first to be terminated in mass layoffs, termination of any employee on temporary disability or who recently filed a sexual harassment complaint, and so on. No employer will blatantly say layoffs are based on these reasons, but that they were necessary because there was a lack of work. This could be a form of coronavirus scapegoating and may just be a pretext for the real discriminatory reason.
What You Can Do
Even during Coronavirus layoffs and uncertainty, it’s essential that employers are held responsible for their actions. Discriminatory firing is a form of wrongful termination, and victims have the right to challenge and sue their employers. If you or someone you know might be facing any of these claims, contact The Law Office of David H. Kaplan. David Kaplan is an experienced litigator with a wealth of knowledge and expertise that can help you fight back legally within the areas of employment discrimination, wrongful COVID-19 termination, and anything of the sort. Visit dkaplanlaw.com today for more information.