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Is Your RIF Termination Actually Wrongful Termination If You Were On Leave?

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Employment Law |

Navigating the aftermath of a Reduction in Force (RIF) can be daunting for employees who find themselves suddenly without a job. What’s even more complex is understanding whether this termination, mainly when you were on leave, could actually be considered wrongful termination.

For legal practitioners specializing in employment law, HR professionals, and business owners, the intricacies of RIFs and wrongful terminations demand a detailed examination.

This blog post addresses this subtle issue and provides insights that could shape your approach to such terminations, especially when individuals are on leave as defined by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). We will explore the legal complexities of RIF-related terminations when an employee is on FMLA leave and provide pivotal information for assessing the fairness of a termination.

Wrongful Termination in the Context of RIF

Before we discuss the nuances of wrongful termination for those on leave during an RIF, it’s essential to understand the concept of wrongful termination in the broader RIF context. Wrongful termination, in the simplest terms, occurs when an employee is fired for reasons that violate the law or breach a contract, as defined by federal and state laws.

In the case of RIF, terminations are often legally justifiable if they are part of a genuine reduction in the workforce, typically due to economic conditions or a company’s strategic changes. However, the key here is ‘genuine.’ If the RIF is used as a cover for discrimination or the dismissal of employees for invalid reasons, it could merit a classification as wrongful termination.

Legal Requirements and RIF Non-Discrimination

Several reductions in force legal requirements must be met for an RIF to be considered non-discriminatory. Generally, RIFs should be based on unbiased and quantifiable criteria such as an employee’s seniority or merit-based performance reviews.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that employment decisions during an RIF must not be influenced by an employee’s protected status, which includes their disability. If FMLA-covered leave constitutes a factor in the employee selection process, and the RIF includes employees on leave disproportionately, there could be grounds for wrongful termination.

The FMLA regulations clearly state that an employee’s status on FMLA leave must not be considered a negative factor in employment decisions, including reduction in force requirements. In fact, any issue of retaliation or leave being held against an employee can be considered a violation of the law.  Similarly, employers cannot use the cover of a reduction in force (RIF) to terminate someone who has engaged in whistleblower-protected activity.

To guarantee compliance with FMLA and legal regulations, employers must ensure that an employee’s performance, potential placement in an RIF, or any other employment decisions are not influenced by their use of or request for FMLA leave or participation in whistleblowing activity.

Seeking Legal Advice

Individuals affected by RIF terminations, particularly those on leave, should seek legal counsel to evaluate the circumstances and potential claims of wrongful termination. Wrongful employment termination lawyers can provide the necessary guidance and next steps to pursue a fair resolution, which could include reinstatement, compensation, or other remedies.

Conversely, for employers, ensuring RIFs are conducted equitably and lawfully can mitigate the risk of facing costly wrongful termination claims.

In conclusion, wrongful termination is a serious issue. When the complexities of RIFs intersect with protected leave, the need for adherence to employment laws is more critical than ever. Whether you’re an employee navigating a termination or an employer looking to secure operations within legal boundaries, staying informed and taking proactive steps is the hallmark of responsible and ethical employment practices.

If you believe your RIF termination was wrongful, it’s time to engage with a wrongful termination lawyer and protect your rights. After all, job security should not be left on the sidelines of an illness or family emergency.

We’re here for you if you’re looking for wrongful termination lawyers. Contact our team at Hamilton Law Firm today for a consultation and find out how we can help. Let us be your partner in the fight against wrongful termination.