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When might layoffs at work be a form of discrimination?

Companies of varying sizes lay off employees for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes, the business has gone through a difficult time and has to make hard decisions to pare down its operations to remain solvent. Companies lay off workers during business bankruptcy and restructuring efforts.

Other times, layoffs can be a byproduct of success. If a business merges with another company or becomes a target of a corporate acquisition, redundant employees will often find themselves at risk of losing their jobs.

Layoffs are simply part of the risk that comes with seeking employment with a business run by someone else. However, layoffs, like other employment decisions, should be as objective and fair as possible. Do you suspect that discrimination may have led to your inclusion in a layoff?

Did you face prior discrimination?

If there has previously been an issue at the company with a hostile work environment because of a protected characteristic, like your race, religion or sex, then you may already have a strong suspicion that your inclusion in the people getting let go during the layoffs is an extension of that previous discrimination.

If you have documentation of misconduct at the company previously or of your attempt to report discrimination, that could bolster your claim that the layoff was yet another example of discrimination.

Is there a pattern to the layoff?

Is everyone that got let go, with a few exceptions, over the age of 40? Did most of the employees belonging to a certain group that worked for the company get let go, or did they have disproportionate representation in the people laid off?

When there is a clear pattern regarding who the company lays off and the common factor connecting the people laid off is a protected characteristic, the company may have engaged in large-scale discrimination while making its employment decisions. If you believe that your inclusion in a recent layoff is indicative of discrimination against you as an individual or against a group to which you belong, you may be in a position to take action against your former employer.

Recognizing when layoffs and similar decisions may be acts of employment discrimination can help you fight back after losing your job.