Staying on the Job

Questions & Answers

Question: When is it NOT LEGAL to terminate an employee; i.e., what are the grounds for termination of employment that the law prohibits?

Answer:

Arizona law provides that an employer may terminate an employee at any time. The term is called “at-will employment.” The legal basis for this is that the employment relationship is considered to be like a contract and at any time either party may decide to end the employment relationship. (A.R.S. § 23-1501). So, generally, an employer can terminate the employee for any reason and at any time without any notice. However, there are some exceptions.

  1. If there is a written employment contract signed by both parties that specifies either a set period of time for the employment or restricts the employer’s right to terminate the employee;
  2. If the employer has terminated the employment relationship of an employee in violation of a state or federal statute that prohibits discrimination and retaliation: • The state civil rights act which governs state government (A.R.S. Title 41, Chapter 9) or federal civil rights under Title VII; • The occupational safety and health act which governs safe working conditions (A.R.S. Title 23, Chapter 2, Article 10); • The statutes governing the hours of employment in different types of jobs (A.R.S. Title 23, Chapter 2); • The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Family Medical Leave Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA); • The agricultural employment relations act which governs agricultural workers (A.R.S. Title 23, Chapter 8, Article 5).
  3. In addition, an employee may have a claim against an employer for wrongful termination if the employer has terminated the employee for any of the following reasons:
  • Refusal to commit an act or omission that would violate a law;
  • Informing a person in management of the employee’s reasonable belief 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;
  • Serving in the national guard or armed forces;
  • Exercising the right to be free from extortion of fees or gratuities as a condition of employment;
  • Exercising the right to be free from coercion to purchase goods or supplies from any particular person as a condition of employment;
  • Exercising his or her rights to attend court proceedings as a result of having been a victim; and
  • In the case of public employees, if the employee has the right to continued employment under the law.

Challenges to wrongful terminations can be very complicated and it is strongly suggested that an attorney who specializes in employment law be contacted to assist in determining if there is a possible claim against the employer. For a list of attorneys, please visit the State Bar of Arizona online.

January 27, 2007