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How to File a Wrongful Termination Claim After Being Fired or Laid Off During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s life. Many workers have been fired or laid off by their employer due to closures, business relocations, and reductions in staffing. At the height of the pandemic, the unemployment rate in the United States hit unprecedented levels, reaching 15 percent in April 2020. While many employers have brought workers back, the unfortunate reality is that tens of thousands of employees were out of work at least temporarily.

In many situations, employers had no choice but to make challenging employment decisions that negatively impacted their employees. However, other employers used the pandemic as an excuse to trim the payroll by terminating employees for illegal reasons. At the employment law firm of Sommers Schwartz, we proudly represent workers who were illegally fired or laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. We help them understand their rights and pursue legal remedies for wrongful termination.

Wrongful Reasons Why Employers Fired or Laid Off Workers During COVID-19

Employers and employees faced various challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. From decreased business to mandated closures to safety concerns, there were—and continue to be—countless pandemic-related employment issues. Below are a few of the most common questions employees have about their employer’s ability to lay them off or fire them.

Can My Employer Fire Me for Requesting Medical Leave?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one dealing with a qualifying medical issue. This law, which took effect in 2009, applies to COVID-19-related medical issues and non-COVID-19-related medical leave.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which took effect on April 1, 2020, entitled employees to take up to 80 hours of paid sick leave if they developed symptoms of COVID-19. Employees also could take paid time off under the FFCRA to care for a loved one diagnosed with COVID-19 or care for children affected by daycare or school closures. Initially, the FFCRA applied to nearly all private employers with fewer than 500 employees. However, this requirement has changed, and compliance with some provisions is now voluntary.

Employers who do not allow qualifying employees to take leave or terminate employees after taking leave may be in violation of federal employment laws. Many employers did not fully comply with its provisions because they simply did not know what they were obligated to provide, especially when the FFCRA first took effect. However, ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you were fired or laid off because of taking leave you were entitled to by law, your employer might be liable for wrongful termination.

Initially, FFRCA’s provisions were set to expire at the end of 2020. However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 have extended many of the FFCRA benefits through September 2021. During the last year, some significant provisions have changed, while some remain in effect. It can be difficult to understand what benefits were effective for which employees at what times. If you were terminated after taking medical leave, you should speak with a knowledgeable employment attorney about whether you have a claim.

Can an Employer Fire Me for a Discriminatory Reason?

Whether based on sex, gender, race, color, religion, or any other forbidden reason, workplace discrimination has always been a problem. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified many of these issues. For example, many Asians and Asian-Americans were discriminated against and retaliated against early on during the pandemic based on unfounded fears they were somehow responsible for the spread of COVID-19.

In some cases, employers did not hide their discriminatory motivations for terminating employees. Usually, however, employers conceal discriminatory termination decisions behind legally permissible justifications like tardiness, insubordination, or poor work performance. When an employer’s stated reason for an adverse employment decision seems suspicious, employees may be able to pursue an employment discrimination claim for “pretextual” termination.

The Process of Bringing a Wrongful Termination Claim After a COVID-19 Layoff or Termination

If you were laid off or fired during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might have questions about what your rights are and how to pursue them. The first step in understanding your options is to contact a dedicated employment lawyer. Gather the following documentation before your meeting to provide the lawyer with a complete understanding of your situation:

  • Any official notice of termination.
  • A copy of your employee personnel file.
  • Any communications with your supervisor or the human resources department leading up to your termination.
  • All job performance reviews.
  • A copy of your employee handbook.
  • Your employment contract (if you have one).
  • Information regarding a union (if you belong to one).
  • Copies of your most recent paystubs.
  • The names and contact information for any witnesses.

It is okay if you do not have all of this information. Gather what you have regarding the course of your employment and the circumstances that led to your termination. If your attorney believes you may have a claim for wrongful termination, they will help you locate the necessary documents and information and assist you with preparing your claim.

Contact the Employment Lawyers at Sommers Schwartz for Help With Your COVID-19 Wrongful Termination Claim

If you were laid off or fired recently and believe that your employer based that decision on an illegal premise, contact the dedicated employment lawyers at Sommers Schwartz. Our team of respected lawyers has decades of experience representing employees in all types of employment disputes, including wrongful termination claims, employment discrimination claims, wage and hour disputes, class action lawsuits, and more. We are nationally recognized as authorities in employment law due to the exceptional representation we provide to each of our clients. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today, call (800) 783-0989. You can also reach us through our online form.

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