Employers often adopt the strategy of laying off employees when finances get tight or when there is an economic downturn. Right now, for example, the coronavirus pandemic has led to numerous layoffs not just here in California, but around the country. However, regardless of the financial position in which the company is, it is important to look into whether an employer has unlawfully terminated jobs.
At-Will Versus Contract Employees
Most employees in California work "at will," which means their employers can lay them off or fire them at any time without having to justify why they did it. An employer who is financially struggling will typically cut jobs. But that doesn't necessarily mean that every layoff is legal. Employees who have contracts may be protected from some types of layoffs. Also, employers cannot lay off employees for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory.
If you are an employee who has a contract, then you are not an "at will employee." For example, if you have a three-year contract, which states that you can only be fired from your job under certain specific circumstances, you are not an at-will employee. If you are let go from your job for any reason other than those specified in your contract, you may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer. If you do not have a written or oral contract, you may still have what is known as an "implied contract," which is implicit in the circumstances of your employment even if it may not be written or oral.
The Role of the WARN Act
Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retaining Notification (WARN) Act, employers who conduct large-scale layoffs or plant closings must give employees advance notice. If you did not get the required notice, you may be entitled to receive pay for every day or notice you should have received, for up to 60 days. The WARN Act, however, does not prevent or block employers from laying off employees. All it requires is that they provide advance notice or pay penalties for not doing so.
Discrimination and Retaliation
Even when an employer has financial reasons to conduct layoffs, they may not be legal if they are discriminatory. For example, if a layoff targets employees over 60, that could be age discrimination. It is common for some companies to lay off older, more expensive workers and replace them with cheaper, younger and more inexperienced workers. This is illegal because it amounts to age discrimination.
Just as layoffs based on discrimination are illegal, so are layoffs or job terminations that are retaliatory. For example, if you get laid off soon after using FMLA leave or if you have been fired soon after filing a workers' compensation claim for injuries you suffered on the job, that amounts to retaliation. Such job terminations that are retaliatory are illegal. Similarly, your employer cannot retaliate against you if you blew the whistle on illegal activities in your place of employment or unsafe work conditions that are putting employees' health and safety in danger.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer
There are a number of reasons why layoffs might be illegal. If you believe that your termination was against the law, even if you were part of mass layoffs, it is important that you speak with an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer who can review the facts of your case and help you determine whether you have a wrongful termination lawsuit.