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Can ‘at-will’ workers be fired for any reason in Michigan?

| Feb 2, 2021 | Wrongful Termination |

Michigan, like nearly every other state in the U.S., is considered an at-will employment state. That means companies can generally fire employees for a legitimate reason at any time.

Those reasons include terminating workers not meeting performance standards, violating company policies or as part of layoffs to cut workforces and reduce budgets.

At-will employment and worker protections

While the definition above may appear to give employers widespread opportunities to fire workers for any reason, that is not the case. Legal challenges often result when employers violate federal laws, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  • The Equal Pay Act
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act provides additional safeguards for employees, such as protecting younger workers from age discrimination, also called “reverse ageism.”

Common reasons for wrongful termination lawsuits

Employers violate workers’ rights on many occasions, either knowingly or unknowingly. The most common wrongful termination claims in Michigan are over:

  • Discrimination: Employers can’t fire someone over age, color, race, religion, height, weight, disability, marital status or other protected areas.
  • Retaliation: Companies can’t terminate someone for reporting violations of laws and regulations, discriminatory practices or unsafe or unclean working conditions.
  • Breach of Contract: Oral and written contracts are considered binding in Michigan. These agreements typically supersede the provisions contained in at-will employment arrangements.
  • Public Policy: Employers cannot fire Michigan workers for unjust or unlawful reasons. For example, workers can’t be terminated for refusing to participate in illegal activities on behalf of their employer.

Understand the limits of at-will employment

While employers have greater flexibility to terminate workers under at-will employment standards, they cannot take steps that contradict federal and state employee protections. It is advisable to consult an experienced employment law attorney if you feel your rights have been violated.

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