Michigan, just like nearly every other state, is considered an “at-will employment” state. Simply put, this means that both employers and employees have the right to terminate an employment relationship at will. They don’t need to give advanced notice or have a compelling reason. It is often said that employers can fire a worker “for any reason or no reason at all.”
This is an adequate explanation of the broad concept of at-will employment, but it leaves out some very important details. In an at-will relationship, employers cannot fire workers for reasons that violate state or federal law, nor can they fire workers in violation of the terms of their contract (if the contract sets terms other than at-will employment).
Employees still protected from discrimination
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other state and federal laws protect employees from discrimination as members of a protected class. These classes include (but are not limited to):
- Race and/or color
- National origin
- Status as a military veteran
- Physical or mental disability
- Sexual orientation
- Genetic information
In explicit terms, this means that your boss could fire you simply because he hates your taste in music. But he could not fire you for being black or for being a woman. Of course, this all comes down to whether your boss gives you a reason for firing you, and if so, whether you believe that justification.
Many times, employers will fire someone based on their membership in a protected class, but will either provide a more acceptable justification or won’t give a justification. If you have evidence that the firing was motivated by your protected class (race or gender, for instance), you still may be able to bring legal action against the company for wrongful termination.
Discharge based on protected actions
It is also illegal to fire workers for engaging in legally protected actions, including:
- Missing work to report for jury duty
- Missing work to go to court because you were a victim of crime or were called to testify as a prosecution witness
- Being a whistleblower about illegal behavior your company is engaging in
- Discussing certain workplace concerns with other employees
- Having your wages garnished to satisfy a court judgment or for overdue child support
In short, at-will employment gives your employer a lot of power, but not endless power. You are still protected by labor laws. If you are concerned about being fired for an illegal reason, please share your concerns with an experienced employment law attorney.