Have you lost your job during the COVID-19 pandemic? Millions of women in the U.S. who were in the workforce early this year are now unemployed—perhaps for the first time in their career.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for women soared from 3.6 percent this past March to 14.3 percent in May. It came down only slightly to 11.2 percent in June, as some businesses began reopening.
While business declines and closures were inevitably the cause of much of the job loss, it’s important to realize that legal protections still exist to protect workers against discrimination based on age, race, color, national origin, religion and sex. The U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published guidance describing various laws that offer rights and protections during the COVID 19 pandemic.
We spoke with Dallas-based labor law attorney Allen Vaught for some of the details.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from discriminating against an employee on the basis of gender (and other protected categories). So, while workforce layoffs or terminations of at-will employees are generally not illegal, if women constitute a higher percentage than men in the gender of the workforce let go versus those who get to keep their jobs, that might be illegal gender discrimination under Title VII.
The deadline to initiate a charge of discrimination if you think you or your coworkers were victims of gender discrimination under Title VII can be as little as 180 calendar days from the date of the employer’s discriminatory conduct. (Different deadlines apply to government employees). You can learn more about Title VII’s requirements here: https://www.eeoc.gov/sex-based-discrimination.
Also, many states have laws that ban gender discrimination in employment.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law which prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. It applies to employers with 20 or more employees. If a workforce reduction disproportionally impacts employees over the age of 40, it might be an ADEA violation.
The deadline to initiate a charge of discrimination if you think you or your coworkers were victims of age discrimination under the ADEA can be as little as 180 calendar days from the date of the employer’s discriminatory conduct. Again, different deadlines apply to government employees.
You can learn more about the ADEA’s requirements here: https://www.eeoc.gov/age-discrimination. Also, some states have their own laws on age discrimination.
Rules Regarding Mass Layoffs
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN Act”) is one of the few exceptions to at-will employees being fired or laid off without advance written notice.
Generally, if there is a mass layoff or plant or office closing, certain employers must give the employees 60 days’ advance written notice of the layoff or closing. If the employer does not comply with the WARN Act’s advance notice requirements, it must then generally pay the affected employees 60 days’ worth of wages and benefits.
Determining which employers are covered by the WARN Act and what constitutes a mass layoff or plant closing can be complicated. The U.S. Department of Labor provides some guidance.
In some circumstances, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) may provide protections for workers with underlying disabilities who are at a higher health risk due to COVID 19. Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or a history of a substantially limiting impairment.
An example could be an employee with a chronic lung disease that puts them at greater risk from COVID-19 who requests to work from home instead of the office, if that can be reasonably done. There are many other disabilities that may warrant reasonable accommodations from employers due to COVID-19. You can learn more about the ADA during the COVID 19 crisis from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission here.
Employees who lose their jobs may qualify for unemployment benefits that are administered at the state level. Each state has their own unemployment benefit requirements. The federal government created a program known as the CARES Act to assist individuals who normally would not qualify for unemployment benefits under state laws. Such individuals include those who are self-employed, contract workers, or those who worked for a business that did not report their wages to the appropriate state agency.
The $600 additional weekly benefit under the CARES Act expired on July 31. There is currently no extension or replacement in place; members of Congress are discussing various proposals to extend help to those affected by the pandemic. It is important to let our representatives know how we are being impacted and what we want them to do, so feel free to reach out and make your voice heard.
If you find yourself needing legal help during this time, please contact us at [email protected]