The COVID-19 pandemic has shaped nearly every aspect of the social and economic landscape here in California and throughout America. Thousands of workers have been laid off or let go due to shut-downs, lack of business, and loss of revenue. While many employers are letting people go with plans of hiring them back as soon as business picks up again, others are using COVID as a smokescreen to get rid of employees for discriminatory reasons.

Even during these unprecedented times, employers are prohibited from firing people for discriminatory reasons such as pregnancy or taking necessary sick leave. If your employer used coronavirus complications as an excuse to fire you unfairly when you requested medical or maternity leave, you may have a legal claim.

Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace is when an employee is treated unfairly, harassed, or fired for reasons related to their race, ethnicity, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, family status, and disability, among other things. These are known as protected classes. Several acts are in place to protect members of these classes. Pregnancy Discrimination is one of these acts, which was established to protect the rights of working women.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was established to protect women’s rights and prevent employers from discriminating against women for reasons related to pregnancy, childbirth, and other related medical issues. This Act is applicable to private employers with more than 14 employees, as well as larger corporations. Under the Act, an employer does not have the right to reduce wages or fire an employee due to pregnancy, although some employers are doing so while claiming the decision was related to COVID-19.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Many employees are also protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA is an important piece of legislature that protects people who need to take time off for personal medical reasons, childbirth, or to care for a sick dependent. Under FMLA, if an employee takes a temporary medical leave, including leave for pregnancy and childbirth, the employer is required to grant them up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. This means that the employer must hold the position vacant for the duration of that time. If your employer fills your position while you are on medical leave, it may be a violation of the FMLA, even if they claim the decision was related to the pandemic.

To qualify for the FMLA, you need to have worked for your current employer for at least one year and must have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during that time.

What Is Wrongful Termination?

If you were fired from your work because of COVID but believe it was, in actuality, due to gender, pregnancy, or because of a medical or maternity leave, it may have been a wrongful termination case. Most people are employed under “at-will” employment, which means that your employer can terminate you for any reason, at any time, unless it is in direct violation of your contract. However, several state and federal laws protect “at-will” employees from unfair terminations. Employers are not allowed to fire workers for discriminatory reasons, and they cannot punish an employee for engaging in certain protected activities. These protected activities include taking permitted medical leave as well as informing an employer of harassment or discriminatory behavior.

What to Do If You Were Wrongfully Terminated due to COVID-19/Coronavirus?

Unfortunately, many employers are taking advantage of COVID and the subsequent confusion to fire employees unfairly. Even during these unprecedented times, the rights of workers still matter. In fact, they are more important than ever before. Employers must be held accountable for their actions and cannot be allowed to use the current crisis to cover up workplace discrimination.

If you believe your employer used coronavirus to cover up an unlawful termination or were fired for being pregnant, a woman, or because you requested a permitted medical leave, you might be able to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which could reinstate employment and compensate lost wages, as well as for the pain and suffering you were caused. Of course, your employer will likely deny that you were fired or laid off for discriminatory reasons and claim that it was for a reason related to COVID. Despite what your employer claims, their reasoning for letting you go could be unlawful.

An employment attorney can help you understand your rights and options and will help you take action. Contact California Employment Counsel APC or call (714) 942-1770 today to talk to an experienced labor attorney who can help determine your grounds for legal action and fight for your rights.