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Layoffs must not violate anti-discrimination laws

On Behalf of | Apr 27, 2020 | Employment Law for Employers |

The current economic climate has employers around the country looking for ways to manage. If an organization has too many workers to meet customer demands, a layoff may be imminent. Of course, as with other areas of employment, layoffs must not violate anti-discrimination laws. 

Federal law prevents employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. As such, employers should not use these characteristics against employees when planning a reduction in force. Here are some ways to ensure a layoff is not discriminatory. 

Start with nondiscriminatory intent 

Company owners should have a legally valid reason for reducing the workforce. Said differently, employers must have nondiscriminatory intent. Economic conditions and customer needs are likely legitimate. Seeking to remove aging workers, by contrast, is not. 

List affected employees 

No employer should leave compliance with anti-discrimination laws to chance. As such, before beginning a layoff, managers should identify affected employees. Making a list of everyone in the force reduction is a good way to uncover possible discrimination. If the layoff disproportionately affects one group of workers, there may be a problem. 

Rethink the layoff  

When employers identify possible discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends looking for ways to minimize the effect on the affected group. If it is possible to achieve the objectives of the layoff without disproportionately removing protected-class workers, using the alternative is apt to be a better approach. 

Document the process 

Comprehensive documentation is not only usually good for business, but it also may help business owners avoid a discrimination charge. Carefully connecting the reduction in force to business goals is ideal. If there is a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason to remove workers from a protected group, the employer’s documentation should reflect it. 

During tough economic times, reducing the workforce is often a necessary step for business survival, but neither employers and employees want to have to deal with a discrimination claim. With some effort, company leaders can plan layoffs without violating federal law.