I was sexually assaulted or harassed at my workplace, but I was then laid off due to COVID-19. Do I still have a legal claim?What are some of my options?
Sexual assault has no place in the workplace. It is never acceptable for an employer to lay off or fire a worker because they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. Most California employers are aware that, once an employee makes a report of sexual assault or harassment, the employer cannot terminate that worker’s employment without raising suspicions of retaliation. However, what some employers do not know is that the same is true for those employees who experienced sexual assault or harassment at the workplace and did not yet have a chance to report it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down large portions of both the public and private sector. As a result, employers are under significant pressure to cut as many expenses as possible. Often, this means laying off employees to save on labor costs. And while employers can generally lay off or fire an employee for no reason, an employer cannot do so for an illegal reason. Some employers who are aware that an employee was sexually harassed or assaulted at the workplace may think they can lay off that employee to avoid an upcoming lawsuit, citing COVID-19 as the reason. That is not the case.
California employment law protects employees from being fired or laid off for illegal reasons. When an employer does so, it is called wrongful termination. Firing an employee for having been sexually harassed, discriminated against, or assaulted at work is illegal. Of course, employers may think that the COVID-19 pandemic provides them some cover for their illegal actions. Again, this is not true. When challenged, an employer must be able to justify the reason for terminating or laying off an employee.
Employers will likely be prepared to justify their reasons for laying off an employee who was the victim of sexual assault or harassment. Thus, it is important that an employee be equally prepared. Employees should consider the following after being laid off or fired:
1. Despite the understandable urge to do so, do not engage in any retaliatory tactics against your employer.
2. Ask your employer for the reason for your termination in writing.
3. If possible, find out whose decision it was to terminate your employment.
4. Request a copy of your personnel file.
5. Preserve all potentially relevant documentation, including an employment contract, emails, text messages, and memos.
6. Locate any witnesses to the assault or harassment, and if there are no witnesses, make a note of the people you told about what happened.
7. Consult with an experienced Southern California employment law attorney.
Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers will likely cite financial concerns for any termination. However, if an employee is able to show that the employer was hiding facts that were relevant to their decision to terminate your employment, these facts can help show that the employer’s cited reason was pretextual.
Other Employment Law FAQs:
- According to the rules for overtime pay in California, how long do I have to file an overtime pay claim?
- Am I entitled to overtime pay?
- Are there any restrictions on what an employer can ask me during a job interview?
- Can employers assign work based on employees’ ages?
- Can I get fired for reporting sexual harassment to my employer?
- Can my employer ask about my age?
- Can my employer legitimately deduct anything from my paycheck?
- Can my former employer give me a bad reference to a potential employer in the future after I have reported sexual harassment?
- Can temps file discrimination lawsuits?
- Does an employer have to give me rest breaks?
- Does sexual harassment have to involve sex or other physical contact?
- How and when do you file an unlawful retaliation lawsuit?
- How can I prove age discrimination in my workplace?
- How do I recognize on-the-job discrimination?
- How is illegal retaliation defined?
- How is national origin discrimination defined?
- How to Report Sexual Harassment at Work?
- I am scared to report sexual harassment because I fear that I will be retaliated against by my employer. What should I do?
- I have recently become disabled and cannot do the work I had been doing. What should I do?
- I was bypassed for promotion because I’m pregnant. Is that legal?
- I was sexually assaulted or harassed at my workplace, but I was then laid off due to COVID-19. Do I still have a legal claim?What are some of my options?
- I was sick and had to take a leave of absence. When I came back to work, I was fired. Is it wrong for me to be fired?
- If I am laid off, does my employer have to pay me severance?
- If I was sexually assaulted many years ago, can I still bring a civil lawsuit for damages?
- If my employer violated the terms in the employee handbook by firing me, can I hold him responsible?
- Is an employee or applicant protected from discrimination because of their past pregnancy?
- Is my employer responsible if I am sexually harassed at a company-sponsored event outside of working hours?
- Is sexual battery charged as a misdemeanor or felony?
- May an employer ask an employee or an applicant if they are pregnant or if they intend to become pregnant soon?
- My employer does not pay mileage reimbursement when I use my own car for company business. What is the California law on mileage reimbursement?
- My employer does not pay overtime pay. What is the California law on overtime pay? Am I supposed to receive overtime on my commission also?
- My employer yelled and cursed at me. Can I sue him or her for harassment?
- What are my rights regarding breaks and meal periods?
- What are the federal and state laws and regulations which provide legal protections for employees?
- What are the signs of age discrimination in the workplace?
- What are the time limits for filing a sexual harassment claim?
- What can I do if I see my co-worker being sexually harassed? Can I file a suit against it?
- What can I do if I was wrongfully terminated?
- What evidence is necessary in order to help prove national origin discrimination under Title VII?
- What if I work in a small business and the person harassing me is the owner or supervisor?
- What is age discrimination? What are some examples of age discrimination?
- What is an “at will” work state?
- What is national origin discrimination under Title VII?
- What is overtime in California? Does an employer have to pay me overtime and how much should they pay me?
- What is the ADEA?
- What is the California law for vacation pay? My employer does not want to pay me for unused vacation pay when I quit or was terminated.
- What is the difference between sexual violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment?
- What is the Wage Theft Protection Act?
- What proof of discrimination at work do I need to include in a discrimination complaint?
- What qualifies as discrimination?
- What qualifies as sexual harassment at work?
- What should I do if I believe I was the victim of employment discrimination?
- What should I do if I was sexually harassed?
- What workplace actions are prohibited under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)?
- Who do I tell when I feel I am being sexually harassed at work?
- Who is covered by the Wage Theft Protection Act?