A friend of mine is losing her job because her boss's wife found flirtatious emails between my friend and her boss. Nothing ever happened between them, but the wife is giving my friend's boss an ultimatum and he has to fire my friend.

Is this legal? How should my friend navigate this situation? What kind of protections does she have?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Dec 24, 2020 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


Pennsylvania is an "at will" state. This termination is not based on a characteristic that would make it wrongful.

Those would be race, pregnancy, religion, gender, family status, disability, age (if over 40), whistleblowing or having a GED instead of a high school diploma. It's also not allowed to fire you for refusing to do an illegal act, doing jury duty, taking military leave .... Etc. There are no categories into which this fits. (Although the only way to be sure is to check with a lawyer)

This is probably legal. Your friend likely has no protections.

This is clearly not an equitable firing, and its motivation is pretty clearly just the boss's personal convenience. While there's nothing to be done (in Pennsylvania) to absolutely guarantee this sort of thing won't happen again, a good start for your friend would be to avoid mixing their professional and romantic lives in this manner again.

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    +1 for localization. Last paragraph applies to any company, in any state, in any country, in any continent
    – Arriel
    Dec 24, 2020 at 1:13
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    Actually the last paragraph puts the blame on the human instead of the laws which entangle your professional and personal life. A better advise would be to move to a jurisdiction with more labor protection. Being fired because a personal acquaintance of a superior says so is madness. Dec 24, 2020 at 11:17
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    @knallfrosch while I agree with your first sentence in many many cases this it definitely not one of them. Becoming romantically involved with your married boss (or subordinate for that matter) is just a terrible idea, period, and we all know it. We even have lots of colorful folk sayings about this like "don't **** where you eat" and metaphors about pens and ink and such. I feel bad for the OPs friend, but when you willing ignore a huge red flag...it usually doesn't go your way. Dec 24, 2020 at 13:02
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    This termination is not based on a characteristic that would make it wrongful. Are you sure? Using the same reasoning in Bostock, for example, would she have been fired had she been a man (all other things identical)? Maybe so, but maybe not.
    – Joe
    Dec 24, 2020 at 18:17
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    @Joe: "All other things identical" would include the affair as well as a jealous spouse, and the company would argue that the outcome would have been identical regardless. Bostock describes but-for causation, which is actually very hard to prove unless you have a smoking gun of some kind (e.g. the employer explicitly tells the employee that they are being fired for being gay or trans, as was the case in Bostock).
    – Kevin
    Dec 24, 2020 at 19:14

The only thing that I can think of that could be applicable is quid pro quo sexual harassment, which would apply if her boss used his position to pressure her into sending or accepting the flirtatious emails.

Note too that many companies have a blanket ban on that kind of behavior towards subordinates, so she could possibly have a basis to appeal to H.R. on that basis.

Short of those things, there may not be much recourse given that it's an at-will employment state. The mere fact that they're firing her for a "bad" reason doesn't mean that there's a legal basis to prevent it (unless the reason that they were firing her also happened to be illegal, such as age or gender discrimination, but that doesn't appear to be the case here).

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