Tech Layoffs: How to Know if You Have an Employment Lawsuit
Tech workers around the country have been on edge in recent months as companies resort to restructuring to weather uncertain economic conditions.
Following downsizing at Peloton, Lyft, and Twitter, Meta’s recent announcement of plans to cut 11,000 jobs from their workforce marks the largest of the layoffs that have rocked the tech industry so far in 2022.
The tens of thousands of employees impacted by these layoffs likely feel shocked and even angry. Some may feel they’ve been treated unfairly by their company and are wondering if they should take legal action, perhaps by suing their employer for wrongful termination.
In this blog post, we’ll explain what circumstances are grounds for a case of wrongful termination and lay out the steps you can take if you were fired illegally.
Most US Employees Can’t Sue Due to At-Will Employment
In the U.S., most people are “at-will” employees. This means that you can leave your job at any time, without inherent legal consequences, and that your employer can fire you at any time, for any reason — or no reason at all.
Because there’s no burden on your boss to give a “just cause” for termination, they don’t have to offer a fair justification for firing you. Their reasons could even be factually inaccurate or based on a misunderstanding.
For example, if a colleague makes an error in a project you’re collaborating on, your boss is legally allowed to fire you for that error — even if it wasn’t your mistake.
For at-will employees, termination based on trivial or arbitrary reasons also isn’t specifically prohibited. For example, you could be fired because your boss is a Yankees fan, and he learns that you support the Mets.
Your status as an employee at will is likely stated in your employment contract. But even if it’s not specifically laid out in writing, under the law, employment is presumed to be at will in all U.S. states except Montana.
The only situation in which your job might not be “at will” is if you have a contract that specifically limits your employer’s ability to fire you. This could be a clause in your employment contract that requires a set term of service as part of your employment, or a collective bargaining agreement that specifies that termination has to be “for cause.”
If your contract stipulates that you can only be fired “for cause,” those causes might include poor performance, misconduct, or ending your job being a financial necessity for your employer.
So, unfortunately for the majority of workers who are “at will,” what may seem like unfair termination isn’t necessarily unlawful termination in the eyes of the law.
But there are exceptions. Some at-will employees who lose their jobs do have potential legal recourse against their employers. To make a case for wrongful termination, employees must demonstrate that their dismissal was in violation of an existing law.
How to Know if You Were Wrongfully Terminated
You could have a case of wrongful termination if your dismissal happened under circumstances specifically prohibited by the law, such as the following:
One of the most common wrongful termination claims is that an employee’s dismissal constitutes unfair discrimination because it’s based on an individual’s personal characteristics or identity: for instance, race, gender identity, religion, national origin, or age (if you’re older than 40).
If you were targeted for dismissal specifically because of your membership in a particular group or protected class, you may have a case for wrongful termination. What constitutes a protected class can vary depending on your local legislation.
For example, San Francisco protects from discrimination against individuals in height and weight. New York law also covers sexual orientation, status as a victim of domestic violence, marital status, gender identity, arrest or conviction record, and unemployment status.
Disability, Health Conditions, and Pregnancy
If you’ve recently become sick or informed your employer of a disability shortly before you were fired, that could be grounds for unlawful discriminatory termination.
Pregnancy, too, is specifically protected by the law: it’s illegal to fire an employee for being or planning to become pregnant, as well as for requesting leave in response to birth-related medical conditions.
Similarly, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, all workers are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for illness, the birth of a child, or to care for an immediate family member.
If your boss fires you for requesting FMLA benefits, that constitutes an unlawful violation of federal law.
Retaliation for Whistleblowing
The law also protects workers from employers who may use termination as a form of retaliation, say, for whistleblowing or complaints made in the workplace. It’s illegal to fire an employee for reporting unlawful activity they’ve observed.
It’s also unlawful to fire an employee who has lodged complaints over workplace misconduct or withheld benefits such as overtime or disability and pregnancy accommodations.
If you were dismissed after filing a complaint internally (made to your employer’s HR department) or with an external state or federal agency, such as the Department of Labor or U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you could make the case that your firing was motivated by unlawful retaliation.
If your dismissal fits into any of these circumstances, you could have grounds for suing your employer for wrongful termination and should consult an attorney.
What to Do if You Were Wrongfully Terminated
An individual can bring a case of unlawful termination against their employer as soon as they are fired. If you have the grounds for a wrongful termination suit, it’s smart to begin the process as soon after your dismissal as possible.
This can help prevent the loss of important documentation that will be needed as evidence in the process. Additionally, some federal laws require that certain complaints are filed within a strict period of time after dismissal.
For example, if you’ve suffered a discriminatory firing, you must file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days after you were fired before you can bring a lawsuit.
By bringing a case of wrongful termination against your employer, you can get some financial restitution for your unlawful dismissal.
Legal restitution can offer financial relief in the form of compensatory damages that pay out lost wages and benefits your employer owes.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also be entitled to additional financial remuneration, such as compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, and/or remission of legal fees.
The amount of restitution you’re entitled to, however, depends on the specific details of your case, the nature of your dismissal, and the specifics of your employer’s violation.
Get in Contact With an Experienced Employment Attorney Today
If you have suffered discrimination or retaliation that constitutes wrongful termination, an experienced employment attorney can support you as you prepare to file a suit.
An advocate familiar with the ins and outs of federal, state, and local laws can guide you through the procedures for reporting claims and preparing the documentation needed to get as much restitution as possible.