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Employees can be terminated for any number of legitimate reasons, including excessive unexplained absences, poor performance, theft of property, inability or unwillingness to operate within established guidelines, and more. Under the laws of the United States, as enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, employees cannot be terminated due to racial, ethnic, religious, gender, age, or disability reasons. Specific laws that protect employees from wrongful termination include provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which protect workers from being fired for complaining about safety or health risks that violate OSHA regulations; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from being terminated on account of race or ethnicity, religion, gender, or age; the Family and Medical Leave Act, which protects a worker’s job in the event he or she misses work due to pregnancy and maternity leave requirements, or for taking medical leave for a legitimate health condition; the Americans With Disabilities Act, which protects against discrimination on the basis of physical disability; and whistle-blower protection and anti-retaliation laws, which protect workers against termination in retaliation for complaints filed with government agencies or with company management regarding potentially unlawful acts. As described by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
“An employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise ‘retaliate’ against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination. The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability, as well as wage differences between men and women performing substantially equal work, also prohibit retaliation against individuals who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding.” [See “Facts About Retaliation,” www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/facts-retal.cfm]
In short, behavioral factors, such as an inability or unwillingness to function as part of a “team,” is grounds for lawful termination. Termination due to age, gender, ethnicity, or religion, however, is an explicit violation of U.S. laws.
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