Getting Fired for Getting Married? You Bet!

Now here’s an interesting one from the ongoing HR-advice blog of Lynne Curry of The Growth Company. Seems a woman writing in — complaining about being fired for planning 200332144-001to marry the ex-husband of someone the company knows, loves and depends on for its business — wants to know, “Can I really be fired for marrying my husband?”

Seems she can be, in an at-will work relationship, if the employer believes her marrying her betrothed will negatively impact business, and can prove it in a court of law.

And this employer apparently believed just that when he told the woman, “that my getting married would ‘create issues’ for some of our clients,” she writes, “and if I planned to go ahead with a marriage, he’d have to ‘make other arrangements,’ particularly if I changed my last name to my husband’s.”

In the post, Curry cites different court cases supporting the employer’s right to fire an employee whose personal-life circumstances — be they excessive drinking, drug addiction, or, yes, even relationships — can or will be a detriment to business.

She quotes Doug Parker, a management attorney, who says that, “although an employee’s choice of spouses ‘is normally none of an employer’s business, employers have rights when an employee’s private activity interferes with [his or her] employer’s legitimate interests, as in cases of … criminal activity or other conduct that spills over into the workplace.’ ”

She also mentions that federal-privacy laws might also protect an employee in this kind of, shall we call it, most disconcerting predicament. Parker, she writes, “cites an IBM case in which a manager objected to an employee dating a competitor’s salesperson. The manager gave the employee an ultimatum that she choose between her job and her boyfriend. Before she could make up her mind, the manager fired her and lost significant dollars in a resulting lawsuit. The court deemed the manager’s tactics a heavy-handed invasion of privacy.”

I love her closing comments:

Can you be fired? Yes. Can you sue? Yes. Can you win? Perhaps. However, the question might be: Do you really want to work for this employer?