Can My Employer Tell Me Where To Live?

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An AOL Jobs reader asks:

My daughter works for a small company out of town Monday-Thursdays. She then travels back home to be with her family for Friday-Sunday. This has been the case for nearly 2 years. She called me tonight upset that her employer told her she has 2 weeks to decide if she would like to become a part of the community. She complained that my daughter does not even attend a church in the area (the other 2 girls in the office do not attend church but my daughter attends her home church every week). Her boss said she does her job well but she wants someone that will settle into the community. She will let my daughter go if she does not agree to stay in town over the weekends. She only makes $13 an hour. My daughter does not enjoy the job tremendously but it is in her field and is giving her good experience.

How would you recommend my daughter respond to her boss? I don't see how her free time is allowed to be dictated by her boss. But I'd like to hear what you think about the situation.

This issue is actually more common than you might think. I've seen many situations where employers told employees where they should live, or refused to hire applicants who lived too far away. I've heard from people who were hired out of state and were fired because they got an apartment near the new job but who didn't move their families. Many employers won't hire you if they think the commute is too far. Many government employers require employees to live within the city or county boundaries.

The short answer is yes, employers can discriminate against you based on where you live. In every state but Montana, you're an at-will employee who can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, except for illegal reasons like whistleblower retaliation or discrimination.

What stands out in your question is the possible issue of religious discrimination. The fact that your daughter's boss is making comments about which church she attends may indicate that religious discrimination is behind this threat.

Another possibility is that the commute has become a problem. For instance, if she's frequently late on Mondays and has to leave early on Fridays, it's possible that there is an issue the employer has decided to address by requiring her to live closer. If the commute has become problematic, the employer is within their rights to fire her for not moving closer.

The question I would ask your daughter is what has happened recently that caused this. After all, she's been working for two years without problems, so what changed? If it followed a recent Family and Medical Leave, jury duty, worker's compensation claim, or objection to something illegal, she might be legally protected against retaliation. If she recently disclosed a disability or pregnancy, that could be evidence of discrimination. If other employees of a different religion, race, sex, age, national origin or other protected category are allowed to live far away without consequences, it could also be evidence of discrimination.

If she thinks the employer is doing something illegal, she should contact an employment lawyer in your state. Otherwise, she should either start looking for a new house or a new job.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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