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Is it legal for companies to discriminate when downsizing?

On Behalf of | May 19, 2022 | Workplace Discrimination

Ohio is an at-will state for employment, which confuses some people when it comes to their rights. They may think that they have no recourse whatsoever if their employer unfairly fires them because the company could terminate their employment at any time.

Although at-will employment does allow workers and the companies that employ them to make quick decisions about ending a relationship, an at-will employment policy does not give a company permission to engage in whatever conduct it wants. It must still abide by federal and state employment laws, including laws against discrimination.

How discrimination laws protect you

Generally speaking, employers cannot terminate a worker based on protected characteristics, like their sex or gender-identity, race, faith or age. Companies also cannot fire someone for reporting misconduct or asking for disability accommodations. If an employer were to fire someone outright after they requested support or went to human resources to discuss sexual harassment, a worker might realize their termination was a violation of their rights and the law.

Termination during a downsizing effort or large-scale layoffs can be more confusing. The layoffs can be a poor attempt to hide discrimination. Companies choosing to fire multiple workers at once or lay off numerous employees at the same time should take great care to avoid discriminating during that process. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends reviewing the list of workers selected for adverse employment actions during a downsizing effort or a merger to check for the disproportionate representation of certain groups.

If a company lets go of all their workers over a certain age or mostly workers from a certain racial background or sex, then their downsizing might be a disguise for what is truly discrimination. Even if the company has the right to terminate workers, they cannot discriminate against people from certain protected groups.

Can you fight back against a layoff or firing?

Those who believe that their inclusion in a recent large-scale layoff or firing is the result of company discrimination or retaliation could potentially initiate legal action against the business involved. Workers who believe their termination was unjust may need to notify the EEOC and potentially take their employer to court.

Learning more about federal and Ohio state laws that protect you as an employee can help you fight back against wrongful termination and other forms of employment discrimination.