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What is disparate impact in layoffs?

On Behalf of | Jul 4, 2023 | Labour And Employment Law |

Laying off workers can be a tough decision for businesses, but there are proper and improper ways to conduct them. If an employer makes poor decisions and violates the rights of those they are laying off, they can be held accountable. One mistake too many companies make is discriminating against workers in their layoffs.

In these situations, discrimination can be overt or subtle. For instance, rather than laying off all workers over 40 or only female employees, a business might rely on a policy with a disparate impact on one group.

What does disparate impact mean?

In the context of layoffs, disparate impact means that the employment decision will adversely affect one group more significantly than other people. 

For example, imagine a business must lay off 10 percent of its workforce. In an effort to be neutral, the company decides to lay off workers based on their salary. However, this decision could unintentionally discriminate against women or racialized individuals, who are more likely to earn less than Caucasian men. Similarly, laying off workers who cannot work on certain days could discriminate against people based on their cultural or religious beliefs, or any other protected personal characteristic under the BC Human Rights Code.

In these examples, employers may think they are making objective decisions, but they can still be discriminatory. And while this might be unintentional, such policies can still be illegal.

Protecting your rights as an employee

Employees have the right to be free from discrimination. Disparate impact discrimination violates these rights. And while disparate impact discrimination may not be blatant, the toll it can take on those affected by it can be. When layoffs unfairly penalize a group, they can experience:

  • Financial strain
  • Loss of benefits
  • Difficulty finding new employment
  • Stress
  • Anxiety

Thus, anyone who feels they have experienced disparate impact discrimination can talk to a lawyer to understand the financial and legal remedies that may be available.



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