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Is it impossible to fire employees in protected classes?

Aug 11, 2023 | Employment litigation

Some employers will lament the fact that they can’t terminate their employees who are already in protected classes. They know that these individuals fit into certain groups that have extra levels of employment protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Protected classes include things like race, religion, age or gender.

But does the protection actually mean that you can’t fire these individuals? Say that you have an employee who is part of a religious group that is different than most of your other employees. Do you have no choice but to keep that employee with the business, even if you would rather move on from them, just because they’re in that protected class? And if so, how is this fair to business owners?

Reasons for a termination

Employers who think like this are looking at protected classes in the wrong direction. A protected class doesn’t mean that someone within that category or that group cannot be fired. It just means that they can’t be fired for that reason.

In the example above, you certainly could not fire the employee just because they were part of a different religion. Unless they are religious organizations, employers are not allowed to specify what religion their employees have to adhere to.

But you still could fire that employee for another reason. Perhaps they are not productive, or maybe they make too many mistakes. Perhaps they don’t get along with customers or you just feel like someone else would be a better fit.

In other words, there are still plenty of reasons why you can terminate that employee. You just have to make sure that you do it for a legal reason to avoid violating their rights. If this gets complicated or leads to a dispute, be sure you know what legal options you have.