Is it legal to terminate an employee over their personal associations?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Is it legal to terminate an employee over their personal associations?

I was hired by an employer, with an at-will contract in place. Then 3 weeks prior to my start date, the employer learned I was friends with a girl he was dating. They got into an argument and the employer told my friend that he would be firing me. There were a few other threatening remarks made by the employer, including how he hoped I have already put my resignation in with my current employer, so I’d be out of a job. And how he would call my current employer and sabotage me if I hadn’t already resigned. What rights do I have, federally and in the state, if he follows through with any of these retaliatory threats? What should I be doing right now to protect myself?

Asked on December 16, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Michigan


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

In an "at will" work arrangement, an employee can be terminated for any reason or no reason at all. Basically, a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit. The exceptions to this would be if some form of legally actionable discrimination is the reason for a worker's treatment (which does not seem to be the case here) or if it would violate the terms of a union agreement or employment contract (which is not the case here). That having been said, if this would-be employer contacts your current job, depending on what is said, they could be opening themselves up to a personal injury lawsuit.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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