We hear it all the time. Employees being let go from their jobs and they don’t believe they have any recourse.
It’s Florida. My boss said he could fire anyone he wanted to for any reason.
They feel so helpless and discouraged. However, there are options for some people. In some cases, the law recognizes disadvantaged groups in need of job protection. You could be part of a protected group but don’t wait for your employer to tell you that you are. Find out below if your position may be protected from firing.
What is a Protected Group?
Protected groups, or protected classes, are groups protected by federal law against employment discrimination. Every U.S. citizen is protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and entitled to the benefits of EEO law. However, while everyone is entitled to the benefits of fairness, there are some groups that are historically disadvantaged and often bear the brunt of unfavorable treatment by employers. In these cases, legislation was passed to protect their interests.
These groups include:
- Age: if you are over 40, it is illegal to discriminate against you based on your age.
- Gender: you cannot be discriminated against based on your gender, including being transgendered.
- Pregnancy: while this is a type of gender discrimination, we list it separately here because of the vast numbers of women who are discriminated against by their employers based on the fact they are pregnant or have recently given birth.
- Race: both outward signs of your race such as skin color or assumptions about your race based on things like hair texture.
- Religion: this includes discrimination based on identifiable markings of your religion including the wearing of religious garb.
- National Origin: no one can treat you differently based on the country in which you were born.
- Physical or Mental Handicaps: as long as you are able to perform the job duties, you cannot be discriminated against based on a disability.
- Whistleblowers: if you spoke up against any of the above regarding yourself or another employee, you could be protected.
These groups are protected by five EEO laws.
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (yes, we have one and you cannot legally be paid less based on something like gender)
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, later amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 and the Pregnancy Disability Act of 1978
- The amended Age Discrimination Act of 1967
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- The Civil Rights Act of 1991
If you are part of one of these protected groups, it is illegal to discriminate against you based on membership in that group. Discrimination includes more than firing. It can cover being passed over for a promotion or special assignment, being turned down for a job, or even being treated differently based on your group designation.
For instance, a pregnant woman with back problems may require a foot rest. A non-pregnant employee with back problems may require the same. The non-pregnant employee is accommodated. The pregnant one is not (Pregnancy is only temporary. Why bother?). This is an example of discrimination.
Of course, there are more intricacies to the law (like the number of employees at the workplace) and the process it takes to prove discrimination. If you believe you’re a member of a protected class and you’ve recently faced difficulties at work such as harassment or termination, you owe it to yourself to better understand your employment rights. Contact us as Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. today. The initial consultation is free.