My company is stating they are downsizing. Can they release me from employment based on that cause?
Yes, if the true reason for terminating your employment is based upon downsizing and economic reasons (rather than the fact that you are on disability).
Frank W. Chen is licensed to practice law in the State of California. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.
An employer can release an employee for any reason it wants, just as long as the reason is not specifically prohibited by law. Please see my guide to at-will employment in California which should help you understand your rights now and in the future: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/a-short-summary-of-california-at-will-employment.
If the company is truly downsizing and your position just happens to be one of the jobs eliminated, that is perfectly legal. But if you are the only one, or perhaps one of a very few, who is being released, it may be worth looking into. Certainly an employer will not say it is releasing you because you are on disability, as doing so would possibly violate the law. It may be stating it is a downsizing but saying it doesn't make it true.
Employment discrimination is against the public policy of California and the United States. Many people misunderstand the meaning of employment discrimination. “Discrimination” does not mean an employer has to be fair, respectful or has to make good decisions. Workplace discrimination means the employer treats one person or group differently from others who are not in the same group, but are similarly situated.
The only workplace discrimination that is illegal is discrimination that is against public policy. Public policy refers only to things that are specifically prohibited by a statute (law) enacted by the legislature, or prohibited by a regulation promulgated (established) by a government agency. Public policy includes statutes prohibiting discrimination against people in specific protected groups, which include sex, race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age (40 years and older), religion, marital status, pregnancy and genetic information. Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination.
Public policy also protects people who blow the whistle on a matter of public concern, complain about improper wage and hour practices, or who exercise voting rights, family leave rights, jury duty rights, domestic violence rights, and a few more rights protected by statute.
An employer cannot change terms of employment or fire an employee if the reason for the change is against the law (against public policy). For example, an employer cannot increase your workload because of your race, sex, national origin, religion, etc. or because you blew the whistle on safety violations.
There are various ways to enforce these rights, depending on the particular public policy involved. For more information on discrimination law, please see my Avvo guide on this subject: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/what-is-unlawful-employment-discrimination--california-law.
You may also be interested in my Avvo guide on the ADA: http://www.avvo.com/pages/show?category_id=6&permalink=disability-discrimination-in-employment and my Avvo guide to the differences between the ADA and California's more generous FEHA: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/employment-disability-protection-under-californias-fair-employment-and-housing-act-and-federal-ada?published=true.
Employment law is complicated and fact specific. You may wish to speak with an experienced plaintiffs employment attorney. To find a plaintiffs employment attorney in California, please go to the web site of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA). CELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the state for attorneys who represent working people. The web site is www.cela.org, and you can search for attorneys by location and practice area.
I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.
*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
Like the attorneys below pointed out, if you are laid off as part of a group of employees who were downsized and you weren't selected due to your disability and in violation of the company's own downsizing policies, then it's perfectly lawful. If, on the other hand, downsize is just a pretext for discrimination termination based on your disability, it might be against the law.
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