Wrongful or unfair termination occurs when an employee is terminated from their job for an illegal reason. The majority of employees are at-will employees, which means their employer may terminate their employment at any time.

In addition, an at-will employee is permitted to leave their employment at any time and for any reason. There are, however, laws that protect employees from improper terminations. If their employer breaks these laws, it is considered wrongful termination.

There are several examples of what constitutes wrongful or unfair termination. These include:

  • Discrimination: If an employer terminates an employee due to their being part of a protected class, it is discrimination and, therefore, wrongful termination. Protected classes are listed below under the description of federal employment laws;
  • Retaliation: An employee who reports their employee for workplace violations is legally protected from retaliation. If an employer responds to the employee’s actions by terminating their employment, it is wrongful termination;
  • Breach of good faith and fair dealing: This is considered wrongful termination when an employer terminates an employee for a fabricated or false reason;
  • Violation of public policy: If an employer terminates an employee due to their participation in a recognized group or political party, it is considered wrongful termination; and
  • Family or medical leave: An employee who needs to take an extended medical leave for reasons such as caring for a sick loved one or maternal/paternal leave is protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This provides that they are entitled to unpaid leave and to have their job protected until they return. If an employer terminates an employee due to taking medical leave, it may be considered wrongful termination.

Pursuant to Arizona employment laws, all Arizona employees work at-will. This means, according to Arizona at-will employment laws, that an employee may be terminated at any time and for any reason. In addition, an employee can be terminated for no reason at all, so long as the reason for termination is unlawful.

There are, however, some exceptions to the at-will employment rule. For example, if an employer in Arizona terminates an employee for a discriminatory reason, a breach of the employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising their rights, the employee may have a legal claim against their employer.

Arizona employers are not permitted to discriminate based on any of the following:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • National origin;
  • Sex;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Religion;
  • Disability;
  • Age;
  • Marital status;
  • HIV/AIDS; or
  • Sickle cell trait.

Pursuant to federal employment laws, an employer is prohibited from terminating an employee based on protected characteristics, including:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • National origin;
  • Sex;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Disability; and
  • Citizenship status.

Are There Exceptions and Grounds for Wrongful Termination?

Pursuant to Arizona labor laws, having the ability to terminate an employee at-will does not mean that an employer can break any laws during the termination process. Even in an at-will state such as Arizona, an employer may be held liable for wrongful termination.

The following aspects of employment may create grounds for a wrongful termination or wrongful discharge claim in Arizona:

  • Discrimination;
  • Medical conditions of the employee;
  • Legal rights and public policy issues; and
  • Contractual rights and company policies.

Both Arizona state laws and federal laws prohibit an employer from terminating an employee based on certain characteristics. An employer must base their termination decision on other factors, which may include work performance or attendance.

An employee cannot be fired simply because they have a medical condition. An employer is prohibited from terminating an employee who has taken medical leave in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In addition, terminating an employee because they are pregnant may be considered wrongful termination.

An employer is not permitted to terminate an employee who is simply acting within their legal rights. For example, an employee cannot be terminated for participating in jury duty or for reporting instances of safety violations or harassment in the workplace.

If there is an employment contract between the employee and the employer which clearly outlines the termination procedures, including possible reasons an employee may be terminated, their employer must adhere to that contract. If the employer fails to follow the contract terms, it may be considered a breach of contract. This also applies to policies contained within employee manuals and handbooks.

A wrongful termination claim in Arizona is more likely to be successful if it can be shown that the employer violated a law or a contract provision. It is not sufficient to simply argue that the employer acted unfairly when terminating the employee.

What are Some Common Wrongful Termination Claims?

An employee in Arizona may have grounds for a worker’s compensation claim against their employer if the employer has terminated the employee for any of the following reasons, including:

  • If an employee refuses to commit an act that would violate the law;
  • Informing another individual that the employer is breaking the law;
  • Exercising their rights under workers’ compensation statutes;
  • Serving on a jury;
  • Exercising their voting rights;
  • Exercising their free choice regarding non-membership in a labor organization; or
  • Serving in the national guard or armed forces.

What if my Employer Breached the Employment Contract?

If an employee has a written employment contract which promises them a job or job security, they are not an at-will employee. Under Arizona law, an implied employment contract may be formed based on clear statements made in an employee handbook by an employer that the employee has a secured job and cannot be terminated for any reason.

For example, if the employee handbook states that an employee will only be fired for good cause, they may have an implied contract. If the individual has an employment contract and their employer terminates them without good cause, they have a legal claim for breach of contract.

If an individual’s employer breaches the employment contract and terminates the employee for no reason, the employee has a legal claim against their employer for breach of contract.

Can you Sue for a Wrongful Termination in Arizona?

If an employee has faced a wrongful termination, they should first contact their employer’s human resources department. In most cases, the employee will need to exhaust any available administrative remedies prior to other legal action.

If the human resources department is unable to resolve the issue, the employee should contact the EEOC and file a claim against their employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission combats workplace discrimination conducts investigations in order to issue a remedy.

A wrongful termination claim in Arizona is dependent upon whether all of the facts that led to the termination would create a wrongful termination. If the employer’s reason for terminating the employee was unlawful, the employee may bring a wrongful termination claim even if the employee is an at-will employee.

It may be difficult to determine what motivations and actions may be the basis for a wrongful termination claim. It is important to consult with an Arizona employment attorney to determine whether an employee has a claim.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

Yes, it is essential to consult with an Arizona employment lawyer if you are facing any potential wrongful termination issues in Arizona. Your lawyer can review your case, determine if you have the basis for a wrongful termination claim, and represent you during any court proceedings.