In Arizona, all employees work at-will. This means an employee can be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all, as long as the reason for the firing is not unlawful.
However, there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if an Arizona employer fires an employee for discriminatory reasons, a breach of employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising their employee rights, a Arizona employee may have a legal claim against the employer. For discriminatory purposes, Arizona employers cannot discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, marital status, AIDS/HIV, or sickle cell trait.
Under federal law, employers cannot fire an employee based on a protected characteristic such as race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, and citizenship status.
Are There Exceptions and Grounds for Wrongful Termination?
On the other hand, being able to terminate an employee at-will does not mean that the employer can break any laws during the firing process. Even in an at-will employment setting, an Arizona employer can be held liable for wrongful termination. The following aspects of employment can create a basis for a wrongful termination or wrongful discharge claim in Arizona:
- Discrimination: Both federal and Arizona state laws prohibit employers from terminating an employee based on certain characteristics. These include race, religion, age, sex, disability, and national origin. Employees must base their decision to terminate on other factors such as work performance or attendance.
- Medical Conditions of the Employee: Employees cannot be fired simply because they have a medical condition. Thus, employers may not terminate an employee who has taken medical leave in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act. Also, firing an employee because they became pregnant may be considered wrongful termination.
- Legal Rights and Public Policy Issues: Employers may not fire a worker who is simply acting within their legal rights. For example, employees cannot be terminated for performing jury duty, or reporting instances of safety violations or harassment in the workplace.
- Contractual Rights & Company Policies: If there is an employment contract is in place between the employer and employee, which clearly spells out the termination procedures (including possible reasons for termination), then the employer must follow the contract. If the employer disregards contract terms, it could be a breach of contract. This also holds true for policies contained in employee manuals and handbooks.
A wrongful termination claim in Arizona will have a much better chance of success if it can be proven that the employer violated some law or a contract provision. It is not enough to simply argue that an employer acted unfairly in terminating the person.
What Are Some Common Wrongful Termination Claims?
An Arizona employee may have a workers compensation claim against an employer for if the employer has terminated the employee for any of the following reasons:
- Employee refuses to commit an act that would violate a law;
- Informing another person that the employer is breaking the law;
- Exercising his or her rights under the workers’ compensation statutes;
- Serving on a jury;
- Exercising his or her voting rights;
- Exercising his or her free choice regarding non-membership in a labor organization;
- Employee serving in the national guard or armed forces;
What If My Employer Breached the Employment Contract?
If you have a written employment contract promising you a job or job security, you are not an at-will employee. Under Arizona law, implied employment contracts based on clear statements made in an employee handbook by the employer that they have a secured job and cannot be fired for any reason. For example, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only for good cause, you may have an implied contract. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
If the employer breaches this contract and fires you for no reason at all, then you may have a legal claim against your employer for breach of contract.
Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim?
Wrongful termination claims in Arizona depend on whether all of the facts that led to the termination would create a wrongful termination. If the employer’s motivation in firing the employee was unlawful, then the employee may bring a wrongful termination claim even if the employee is an at-will employee. It can be difficult to see what actions and motivations can give rise to a workers compensation claim. It is often worth consulting with an Arizona employment attorney to determine whether you might have a claim.
Should I Consult an Attorney?
Wrongful termination is a confusing area of law and navigating the legal system may be difficult. An employment lawyer can help you determine whether there is a legal basis for a claim, and if so, can help you recover monetary damages.