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Can I be fired for not getting along with coworkers?

Having positive relationships with coworkers is an important part of most jobs. However, it’s common for interpersonal conflicts to arise in any workplace. Disagreements and personality clashes happen, but can you actually be fired for not getting along with a coworker? Here’s what you need to know.

Can an employer fire you for not liking a coworker?

Generally, no. An employer typically can’t fire you simply because you personally dislike or don’t get along with a coworker. However, they can fire you for behavior related to not getting along that violates company policy or disrupts the workplace.

Some examples of problematic behaviors that could potentially lead to termination include:

  • Bullying, threatening, harassing or intimidating a coworker
  • Making discriminatory or derogatory comments
  • Sabotaging a coworker’s work
  • Spreading rumors or gossip about a coworker
  • Engaging in angry outbursts or physical violence

So while personality differences alone are not grounds for termination, how employees behave and treat each other in the workplace matters. Employers can and often do have policies requiring respectful and professional conduct.

What if there is a personality conflict?

Personality differences and clashes do happen. If you simply don’t mesh well with a coworker but remain civil, an employer can’t fire you solely for that reason. However, prolonged personality conflicts can decrease morale and work quality. In these cases, termination is still unlikely to be the first recourse.

Some steps that can be taken to resolve tensions include:

  • Addressing issues privately and professionally with the coworker
  • Speaking to a supervisor or HR about the situation
  • Trying a mediated conversation with the coworker and a neutral third party
  • Attending conflict resolution training if offered
  • Being reassigned to different tasks or a different team

The employer has an interest in restoring a positive working environment. Firing employees is usually a last resort after other reconciliation attempts fail. But if personality differences degrade into misconduct, termination could ultimately occur.

What about not getting along with a boss?

You typically can’t be fired directly for personality differences or simply not liking your boss. But defiance of authority, refusal to work collaboratively, and other problematic behaviors could arise. Those could potentially warrant termination if severe and repeated.

Steps that can help resolve conflicts with a supervisor include:

  • Speaking professionally to the boss about any concerns
  • Learning the boss’s work style and preferences
  • Trying to find common ground through open communication
  • Asking for a mediation session if needed
  • Reporting any misconduct or abuse through proper channels
  • Requesting a department transfer if difficulties persist

While employers generally encourage openness with supervisors, subordinates still need to show respect for authority. Refusal to carry out reasonable instructions from a boss could demonstrate insubordination, leading to firing.

When does conflict become a legal issue?

If negative interactions with coworkers involve harassment, discrimination, or other conduct prohibited by law, then it becomes a legal matter. Some examples include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Racial discrimination
  • Disability discrimination
  • Age discrimination
  • Gender discrimination
  • Religious discrimination
  • National origin discrimination

It’s unlawful for an employer to retaliate against employees who report legitimate harassment or discrimination claims too. If you’re fired for making a good faith complaint, that could be grounds for legal action.

Key takeaways

Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to getting along with coworkers:

  • An employer typically can’t fire you solely for a personality clash or dislike of a coworker.
  • How you behave and treat coworkers matters – aggression, harassment, discrimination, etc. can warrant termination.
  • Prolonged conflicts can hurt work culture. Seek constructive solutions before the situation escalates.
  • Address problems professionally. Don’t let differences spiral into misconduct.
  • Unlawful harassment or discrimination should be reported immediately.
  • Retaliation for reporting legitimate issues can be illegal.
  • Refusing reasonable instructions from a supervisor could demonstrate insubordination.
  • With effort from both sides, many conflicts can be resolved.

The bottom line

Having difficult coworker relationships is fairly common. While you can’t control whether personalities mesh, you can control your own conduct. Strive to act professionally, follow company policies, and document any concerns. With patience and commitment to a respectful workplace, many interpersonal issues can improve. But if conflicts escalate into unlawful behavior or clear policy breaches, then termination could ultimately occur in severe situations.