Advising And Defending Businesses

Can you fire employees who belong to a protected class?

On Behalf of | Nov 14, 2021 | Employment Law

Historically, employees have faced discrimination, so the government set up a system of protected classes. Employees cannot be fired based on their inclusion in any of these classes. 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), these classes are as follows:

  • Religion
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Age
  • National origin
  • Genetic information
  • Disability

Some of these categories include other things, as well. For instance, sex discrimination could focus on gender identity, sexual orientation or pregnancy. In addition, state and local laws may create additional protected classes beyond the federal definition. 

So what if you want to let one of these employees go? Does their membership in a protected class mean that you cannot fire them without risking a discrimination lawsuit?

You need a valid reason to fire the employee

You certainly can still fire these employees. They are not protected from termination in any case, and inclusion in a protected class doesn’t mean they can keep their job regardless of all else. 

You simply need a valid reason to fire them, because you can’t fire them based on one of the classes. For instance, you cannot fire a minority worker because he or she is a part of that ethnic or racial group, but you can still fire them for poor performance or something of this nature. That is not illegal. As long as you don’t use the protected class as the reason for the firing, you have not violated the law. 

What if a lawsuit still happens?

Of course, you may know that it was a valid firing, but the worker may still claim they were discriminated against and sue your business. If this happens, it’s crucial that you understand all of the legal options you have. You need to protect your business and uphold your reputation as a company that does not discriminate.