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Questions about Layoff Laws

Employment in most states is “at will,” which means you may be fired without cause or notice. However, companies still have to follow federal and state employment laws covering issues such as discrimination, whistle-blowing, and layoff notices. Sometimes, while it “seems unfair,” it might be legal. Knowing the difference between an illegal layoff and an unfair layoff can save you a lot of emotional unrest. Lawyers are available right now on JustAnswer to help clarify legal issues around any such job loss.

Below are some of the top questions on layoffs answered by Lawyers on JustAnswer.

In Florida, can an employer lay off an employee without any prior notice?

In Florida, as in most states, employees are presumed to be "at will." At-will employees may be terminated for any reason (or no reason), so long as it is not illegal (i.e., discriminatory based on a protected class such as race or gender) or violates a contractual obligation (employment contract, union agreement, etc.) or any other clear statements of job security made by the employer.

As a result, you could be terminated for any legal reason. Since you can be terminated for any reason, your job description, pay, or work conditions can also be changed for any reason.

I was laid off last week after a back surgery three months ago that does not allow me to keep regular hours. I am under severance until next week. Can I still file for disability because I am not able to work?

Long-term disability is usually a policy you or your employer pays for while you are employed. Once laid off, that policy was probably ended, and you cannot file under it now. As for Social Security Disability, you can contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) yourself and file the paperwork or go to a local SSA and file in person. It is a process that some people do need help with, and there are usually attorneys in your area who specialize in the filing or disability claims.

If your benefits are still active, file your disability claim with the employer policy at the earliest before it lapses. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) takes a while to process, and it does pay monthly.

I was laid off and a consultant hired in my place. My employer is refusing to pay me layoff severance, saying that there is no reduction in workforce.

If you were laid off, it amounts to a reduction in workforce. You may contact the U.S. Department of Labor for input. However, this cannot be resolved without taking a more formal step such as hiring an attorney for wrongful dismissal.

If you don't want to sue, ask your lawyer to proceed with mediation or arbitration to help resolve this. An employment litigator will be able to draft the proper letters and evaluate if you have a valid claim. If you do, they can then proceed to ask the issue be resolved through arbitration. Remember that the threat of litigation is what will likely have the firm work with you. If there is no threat of litigation, it will go nowhere. Lawyers on JustAnswer may be able to clarify questions related to severance pay.

I worked in Pennsylvania all of last year without any leave so I could take a vacation this year. But I was terminated, and the company says that according to their policy an employee forfeits vacation time if terminated.

Whether the company pays vacation time upon termination is up to the individual company's policy. There is no law in Pennsylvania that an employer must pay workers for earned vacation time upon termination. Each employer is free to establish their own policy regarding vacation payment. However, where the employer has an established policy to pay earned vacation upon termination, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry can enforce that policy.

Neither the federal wage laws nor the employment and wage laws in Pennsylvania require that companies pay accrued vacation time to their employees upon termination of employment. However, individual companies can pay it if they want to, and the policy of many companies is to do just that.

Unless the policy about not collecting for earned vacation only applies to terminations for cause and you were not so terminated, I'm afraid that you have no legal recourse against the company.

How do you fire an 80-year-old without risking age discrimination?

If the employee is 80 years old, and he is not performing his job, then the employer must provide a substantial written record that the employer has warned the employee that his performance is inadequate, exactly how his performance does not meet the employer's requirements, and provided a plan to improve performance within a reasonable time period (three months would be considered reasonable). The plan could review the employee's performance each month and either state that the employee is improving or not, the reasons why, and what must be done to meet the employer's standards.

Then, at the end of the three-month performance review period, the employer can provide a final review and either retain or terminate the employee based upon his performance.

In this manner, the employer is lawfully terminating based upon employee performance, rather than age.

Additionally, the employer can offer a severance package that contains a signed release by the employee whereby he agrees to waive his rights to sue under any and all discrimination laws, in exchange for the employer's payment of a lump sum. The amount offered must be substantial enough to justify the release. A few hundred dollars may be deemed unconscionable and legally unenforceable by a court.

I was laid off from a job that paid by the hour and am receiving unemployment benefits. But now my company wants me back at a reduced number of hours and pay. If I join I lose unemployment and the offer is not worth going back for, is this legal?

One of the conditions of unemployment is that you accept a job if it is offered to you. If your employer is offering to bring you back, even on a limited basis, you must accept it.

If you refuse to go back, the employer can notify unemployment, and your benefits will stop. I understand that this seems to be very unfair and unjust. However, it is not illegal.

Your employer may be paying for unemployment behind the scenes. They might have figured that since they are paying for you anyway, they might as well have you come in and get some work out of you.

There are federal laws that protect the interests of laid-off employees, and states too may have similar employment laws. A lawsuit found in your favor could result in back pay, damages, and attorneys’ fees. However, during the litigation process, you may have to talk about your work history. If you claim lost income, your tax return will be scrutinized.

If you are facing a similar problem or want to know about the legality of another layoff matter, ask an Expert.
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