As a responsible business owner, you’re well aware of the federal and state laws against workplace discrimination of people in protected classes. You’ve never been accused of discrimination in hiring, promotion or termination.
However, you’re facing a situation that’s going to require a substantial reduction in force (RIF) — layoffs. Some of the people whom you’ll need to let go are in protected classes.
Know the protected classes
Colorado has more protected classes than many other states. These include (but are not limited to):
- Disability (both physical and mental)
- Ancestry and national origin
- Sexual orientation
So how do you keep from violating discrimination laws and lessen the chances that you’ll be credibly accused of discriminating?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that in advance of an RIF, employers take a careful look at the list of employees who will be impacted to determine whether some classes are being impacted more than others. For example, if half of your workforce is female, but women comprise three-fourths of the people scheduled to be laid off, that could be a problem.
If you find that a disproportionate number of any members of a protected class are being laid off, the EEOC recommends trying to adjust your criteria for layoffs to ones that will let you meet your goals without impacting any protected class more than those not in protected classes.
What are your criteria? Do they involve salary, length of employment, the number of people in particular departments or is it just a matter of getting to a bottom line you can afford? Whatever your overall goal is, can you still reach it if you look at some other criteria that wouldn’t significantly impact one group over another?
This may require a whole level of analysis you hadn’t planned for. However, it’s worth the time and effort if you can avoid lawsuits and potentially damage to your company’s reputation. It may be wise to talk with an experienced attorney as you make these difficult decisions.