Is is legal for a supervisor to threaten their employees?

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Is is legal for a supervisor to threaten their employees?

A former co-worker of mine confided in me that his boss has been threatening him to keep him in his current job. He wanted to transfer to another location in another part of the company, however his boss promised to do everything he could to prevent my friend from succeeding in that. He also told me that his boss has been lying about him to higher-ups in the company to defame his reputation and keep him in his current role. Also, his boss said that if he quit, the boss would make sure that he gets a permanent no-rehire status for the entire company, which is a very big company in the industry and would noticeably limit my friend’s ability to get jobs. There may be more I don’t know. I imagine most of this has come through non-recorded face-to-face conversations. When I worked for this same boss, though lower down the chain, I met a number of people in the company who had had similar experiences with this boss. Some have succeeded in moving on. My friend has a stellar reputation for honesty and effective hard work and has been highly touted as a corporate up-and-comer with a very promising future in the company by higher-ups in this company prior to this boss gaining authority over him. What of this is legal/illegal, and what can be done about it?

Asked on April 18, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Utah

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

if your friend's supervisor knowinlg makes an untrue statement (not merely an opinion)about them to 3rd parties, then your friend could sue for defamation. Other than that, there really isn't much they can do unless their boss's behavior in some way violates the terms of a union contract or employment contract. Also, it must not constitute any form of legally actionable discrimination. Otherwise, an employer (including supervisors, managers, etc.) can set the conditions of the workplace much as it sees fit. This inlcudes who can or cannot make a transfer. While unprofessional, this treatment is unfortunately legal.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Everything but the defamation--lying (making untrue factual statements--and they must be provably untrue factual statements, not just opinions) to other people about your former colleague--is legal. A supervisor can try to prevent an employee from transferring or getting a job elsewhere or again in the company--that may be unfair, but the law allows managers to decide whether to support or oppose transfers, whether to "blacklist" employees, etc.; the law imposes no standards of fairness, professionalism, etc. on supervisors. The only thing you describe that the supervisor cannot do is, as stated, to defame the employee by stating untrue facts about them to other people, which facts damage the employee's reputation or employment prospects. Defamation is legally actionable: the employee could sue the supervisor for monetary compensation, or seeking a court order that the supervisor stop doing this.


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