Belt-tightening is never a justification for discrimination or unlawful behavior, and this reminder is especially appropriate in the wake of KPMG’s announcement two weeks ago that it is laying off nearly 700 employees in its Advisory, or consulting, practice group.
While layoffs alone are not illegal, they also do not provide employers with a complete defense against allegations of discrimination or other unlawful treatment.
Sanford Heisler Sharp has represented thousands of female KPMG employees in challenging discrimination at the Big 4 accounting firm, including several in a long-standing and now-resolved gender discrimination lawsuit.
When Is A Layoff Illegal?
Experienced employment attorneys can help laid-off employees know their rights and identify potential legal claims. These legal claims can be used to challenge layoffs in court, but they can also be used to negotiate for increased severance. In particular, as a laid-off employee, you should consider whether you might have the following claims:
- Breach of contract. Was the layoff in violation of your employment agreement? Employment agreements are often signed upon hiring or upon accepting a promotion, like a Senior Manager Agreement, for example. Did this agreement require your employer to provide advance notice of your termination, or to provide you with a severance?
- WARN Act. Did the employer provide notice that is required under state or federal WARN Acts, or Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Acts. These laws require employers to provide advance notice of layoffs in certain circumstances.
- Discrimination. Were you terminated in violation of anti-discrimination laws? Consider who else was, and was not, subjected to termination and why. While employers can engage in mass layoffs, they cannot consider race, gender, age or any other protected characteristic in deciding who gets terminated. If you are over 40, your severance paperwork should include information on who else was laid off and their ages.
- Retaliation. Employers also cannot terminate people for engaging in protected activity, which includes things like raising concerns that the company is engaged in discrimination.
- Whistleblower. Some employees know that their firms engaged in illegal conduct, and whistleblower laws encourage employees to report illegal conduct by providing employees with monetary incentives.
Do I Need An Attorney After A Layoff?
In the wake of a layoff, it is important to consult with an experienced employment attorney. Even if you are not interested in pursuing legal action, employment attorneys can advise you of your rights, assist you in negotiations for increased severance, explain the terms of your severance agreement, walk you through your options, and help you make an informed decision about next steps. To learn more about the employment attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp, contact us now.