To insulate people from workplace discrimination, some workers are considered part of legally protected “classes” based on things like their gender, religion, race or other factors.
But say you have a worker who happens to be in one of these protected classes — and they simply aren’t very good at their job. You may hear other executives note that you “can’t fire them” because of their status within the protected class. Is this true?
Even workers in a protected class can be fired for legitimate reasons
As you suspect, it isn’t true that you cannot fire someone if they belong to a protected class. You certainly can. People just say it because they’re worried that the employee will claim their termination was due to some form of illegal discrimination.
Letting an under-performing or difficult worker go isn’t discrimination unless you fire them because of something related to their protected status. When you have a valid reason outside of those traits, you can fire them just as you could with any other employee. For example, you can’t fire a female employee because you don’t like women working in your office — but you can fire a female employee if she simply cannot do her work properly.
This is why documentation can be so important. If you do regular performance reviews and have a system in place for warnings, write-ups and other disciplinary measures, it can help you show that your decision to let an employee go was based on their performance at work alone — not their gender, race or anything else.
If you’re facing a wrongful termination and discrimination claim, get help
Employment issues focusing on allegations of discrimination and wrongful termination are often very complex. Make sure you know exactly what steps to take to protect your future and your business by working closely with an experienced lawyer.