The short answer: Yes.
However, employment cases related to COVID-19 firing are seldom that simple. Financial downturns, such as those that resulted from the pandemic, are a legally legitimate reason for laying off employees. California is an “at-will” employment state after all, meaning your employer can fire you for any or no reason, with no warning and without the need to establish just cause. Nevertheless, employees are afforded certain protections, as some dismissals and terminations can be deemed illegal under state and federal employment laws.
If you believe that you are the victim of a wrongful dismissal, you can sue for damages, and possibly, even get your job back. Here are questions you need to ask.
Are you under contract?
Employees under contract may be buffered from layoffs. This is true whether the employee is under an individual or collective contract agreement.
Individual contracts typically cover executives and specialty professionals, such as doctors and engineers. Depending on what is stated in the individual contract, certain clauses may prevent the employer from terminating the employee outright. To see if you have stipulations in your contract that prohibit your layoff, have an employment attorney in San Diego review your contract for you.
A collective contract, which is the result of a collective bargaining agreement, governs the actions between employer and unionized employees. If you are under a collective contract, the union you belong to can help you determine if your company is in violation of your collective contract by laying you off. If you are fired for any reason apart from the ones stipulated in your contract, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. Aside from consulting your union, it can also help to contact an employment lawyer to discuss the merits of your case.
Were you discriminated against?
Unfortunately, too many companies use layoffs to hide the fact that they are discriminating against a protected class of workers. Even if a business is experiencing legitimate financial hardship due to the effects of COVID-19, it still cannot conduct layoffs in a manner that discriminates against age, race, religion, gender, sexual preference, disability, and others.
To cite an example, a construction company looking to hire more male workers in a particular age group may try to purge women and older workers from its pool of employees. If evidence suggests that the layoff was discriminatory, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.
It doesn’t matter if the discrimination is intentional or not – as long as the layoff disproportionately affects a protected group, it can be grounds for a wrongful dismissal lawsuit. Since proof of discrimination is not always obvious, it’s in your best interest to consult a discrimination lawyer to find out whether your layoff was lawful or not.
Are you being punished?
Just as a business can discriminate against an employee by targeting them for layoff, an employer can also use a layoff to retaliate against an employee. For example, an employer might tell managers to get rid of employees who have filed discrimination or harassment complaints.
Even if the company has a legitimate need to reduce workforce numbers, it can’t use layoff as a reason to fire employees for exposing a toxic or hostile work environment. If an employee has exercised a legal right or complained of illegal conduct and loses their job in the process, even if that job loss happens in the context of a mass layoff, the employee may still have a legal claim for wrongful dismissal.
Did you receive a layoff notice?
Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, companies and organizations conducting mass layoffs are required by law to give advance notice to employees that they plan to let go. If you have been laid off without notice, and your employer’s type of business is covered by the Act, then you may be entitled to receive pay for up to 60 days, depending on how long you should have received your notice.
Although the WARN Act doesn’t prevent you from getting fired, it does equip you with a way to get some form of compensation for your employer’s failure to give you notice.
Get legal help today
If your answer is yes to any of the questions above, then it may be time to contact Hogue & Belong, Attorneys at Law. Our team of experienced lawyers are well equipped to help you win your wrongful termination case.