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Are you not allowed to fire workers in protected classes?

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2023 | Labor And Employment

As an employer, you know well that some of your workers are in protected classes. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is race. But other protected classes under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission include things like age, ethnic background, gender, disability and more.

Many employers are concerned that they simply are not allowed to fire people in these protected classes. They assume that that’s what this protection means: That the person’s job is safe in all cases and they cannot be let go. But is this actually the case?

It depends why you’re firing them

The key is to look at it this way: You cannot fire people because they are in those protected classes. You certainly can fire workers who simply happen to be in those classes, though, as long as the class itself is not the reason.

For example, perhaps you have a worker who is consistently late to work or simply doesn’t put in the quality that you would see from other employees. This is a completely valid reason to fire them, even if they are over 40 years old. However, you cannot fire them because they are over 40 years old, or that would be a case of age discrimination. 

The protected classes do not mean that these people are immune to having their jobs terminated. It just means that those classes can’t be used as a reason for the termination, which would be a clear case of discrimination against them on those grounds.

Of course, you may have fired someone for a completely legal reason and still find yourself facing allegations of discrimination. Be sure you know what legal options you have at that time.