Can You File a Lawsuit Against Your Employer For Laying You Off?


The pandemic has caused a mass layoff of employees, leading to countless companies facing a wide range of lawsuits. Employers have been warned of this outcome, and Congress has debated the possibility of some liability protection for businesses. According to Atty. Jennifer Bologna of Jackson Lewis in New York, it is crucial for employers to do all they can to curb their potential liability because it is uncertain if the worker’s compensation will apply to COVID-19-related diseases.

But even before the pandemic, layoffs have already been happening. It made headlines in the Philippines back in 2014, two years prior to the implementation of the K-12 program in the country. Over 85,000 teachers feared losing their jobs due to it, and sure enough, many of them ended up jobless as their subjects were taken off from curricula.

Considering that, it seems that you can be removed from your job anytime, as long as your employer deems it reasonable to do so. Should you sue them if you believe that your layoff was unfair?

What the Law Says About Layoffs or RIFs

If you’ve been laid off, or let go due to a reduction-in-force (RIF), discuss your situation with a skilled attorney before jumping to conclusions that your employer had carried out an illegal act. Though removing you from your job is undeniably unfair, it is not necessarily illegal.

What the law says about layoffs or RIFs depends on the reason behind your termination. If your employer included you in a group that’s been selected for RIF, and all the members of that group are of a certain age range, then your employer might’ve practiced discrimination, which is an illegal reason to fire someone.

Even if the overall layoff was legal, you can still be included in a layoff group illegally. For instance, your position wasn’t initially selected for layoff, but suddenly became included because you complained about discrimination or any other unethical or illegal act. In that case, your layoff or RIF could be a cover-up for silencing you.

Layoff vs. Termination

You might also be confused about whether you’ve been laid off or terminated. Employers and employment lawyers tend to use the term “layoff” generally to refer to any job termination due to a business reason. Reduction-in-force, on the other hand, is a termination that’s done to cut down costs.

Employers lay off an employee due to a circumstance that affects the company’s financial picture or future plans, not because they had a personal dispute with the employee. Termination, on the contrary, is the firing of any employee for any reason besides a business-based job elimination. Terminations could be “at-will”, in which there is no stated reason, or “for cause”, in which there is a stated reason.

When to File a Lawsuit

In many states, the law allows employers to fire an employee for any reason, or for no reason at all, but there are limitations. So before filing a lawsuit, consider the following:

  • Your Contract

If you’ve signed a contract when you started your job, there should be policies indicated there regarding the reasons your employer can fire you. Your lawyer will assess these policies to determine if your layoff was done legally.

  • How Employees Were Treated

If your employer claimed that your layoff was due to cost-cutting measures of RIF, your lawyer will assess if the facts support that claim. If it turns out that you’re a part of a protected group, such as women or people aged over 40, then your layoff could be a case of discrimination.

  • Your Damages

Your damages include lost pay, lost benefits, emotional distress, and punitive damages.

  • Witnesses

If your colleagues can stand witness to your wrongful layoff, they would significantly help strengthen your case.

If your lawyer’s final judgment is that your layoff was legal, move on and leave the ordeal behind you. It won’t make your consultation a waste of time. After all, it’s better to receive legal advice than just accept your fate and let an unfair employer win.

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