There are federal laws in place to protect employees from those employers who would like to fire them on a discriminatory basis. Many employee agreements categorize their roles as ‘at will,’ which means they may be subject to termination for virtually any reason and at any time, barring that the reason for termination doesn’t involve some sort of discrimination or retaliation.
The extent of the federal regulations
Discrimination, at the federal level, is recognized for an employee’s race, gender, national origin, disability, religion or age (for those over 40). The law defines these categories as ‘protected classes.’ Though not classified as a protected class, federal law makes it illegal to fire employees due to pregnancy or the medical complications resulting from a pregnancy. Cities and states, in some areas, expand the protected classes to include other categories. At the state level, California expands the federally protected classes to include:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity/expression
- Disability (mental and physical, which provides for patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer and genetic characteristics)
- Request for family care leaves, health conditions or pregnancy disability leave
- Political activities or affiliations
- Military/Veteran status
- Victims of domestic violence and assault
Retaliation by an employer
Beyond the protected class categories, if an employee is fired for bringing up an employer’s failure to fulfill state or federal regulations with a supervisor or business owner, they are protected from retaliation by that employer. California law also makes some provisions for employees who report patient abuse within institutions that receive state funding.
Supporting the legal rights of workers
Employees need to inform an employer when they are violating employment law or engaging in activities that are discriminatory to their workers. If you were terminated from your job and you believe that your employer discriminated against you, it would help to have a lawyer well-versed in wrongful termination suits.