Receiving a pink slip is bad enough, but what may be even more jarring is the suspicion you’re being dismissed for reasons that have nothing to do with your on-the-job performance. Despite the existence of laws prohibiting employers from firing people because of factors such as their race or gender, workplace discrimination persists. Every year, tens of thousands of complaints are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging bias at work, including unlawful dismissal. But the real incidence of workplace discrimination may be much higher, in part because some incidents go unreported, but also because employers may be engaging in legal discrimination.
“Not all types of discrimination are protected under the federal anti-discrimination laws,” according to Workplace Fairness, an employment rights organization. While federal laws prohibit discrimination based on age, disability, race, sex, pregnancy, national origin, and even genetic information, other classes are unprotected. Depending on the circumstances, your company may be within their rights to fire you because of your appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, things you say online, or political beliefs. That may come as a brutal shock to workers who mistakenly believe the law protects them from their employer’s biases.
How can employers get away with firing people for random reasons? Blame the “at-will” employment laws that prevail in much of the United States. In an at-will state, “an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. As a result, businesses have broad latitude to let people go for reasons that seem to have little to do with their job performance, provided they’re not breaking other laws. Here are six kinds of legal discrimination employers are allowed to practice.