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What Does Employment At Will Mean In Arizona?


Employment at Will in Arizona means that the employer is free to fire an employee at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. Similarly, the employee is free to quit at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. Although the default rule in Arizona is that all employment falls into the “At-Will” category, there are exceptions to the rule where the employer is not simply allowed to fire the employee without legal consequences. These exceptions fall primarily into the categories of illegal discrimination, illegal retaliation, and when the termination would violate a written employment contract.

What Does Wrongful Termination Mean?

Wrongful termination is when someone has been terminated in a way that qualifies for one of the exceptions to the At-Will employment rule. Generally speaking, there are three times that a termination can be wrongful termination, also called illegal termination. What makes a termination illegal is if it violated statutes against discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability status, or age. The second category would be if the termination was in retaliation for something, usually it is something along the lines of reporting illegal activity or participating in some sort of investigation of the company. The third type of wrongful termination is if you have a contract for a specific period of time then you cannot be fired for just any reason—you can only be fired for the reasons that are specifically identified in your contract as reasons that firing would be allowed. Those types of contracts are commonly used for school teachers, who sign a contract for the entire school year. During the school year, they cannot really quit for any reason without legal repercussions, and similarly, the school cannot just fire them for whatever reason they want–they could only be fired if there was good cause for doing so, which would be outlined in the contract.

What Is A Constructive Discharge?

Constructive discharge is when the circumstances and conditions of the employment for the employee are so bad that any reasonable person would quit. In other words, if an employee is in a job situation that is so bad that any reasonable person would say that they cannot work in that environment anymore, then if you quit, the law will treat you the same as if you had been fired. This is significant because it can still qualify as a termination and therefore can also qualify as a wrongful termination, which would justify legal action even though you technically were never terminated.

Most commonly, constructive discharge will arise in situations where there is some sort of sexual harassment going on. The employer never fires the employee who is being harassed but the harassment is so bad that it would be unreasonable to expect the employee to stay in that position with that company. Therefore, they are allowed to quit and the law will still treat it as if they had been fired. However, it is not limited to sexual harassment situations. In any job situation where the working conditions are so difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable employee would feel compelled to resign, then even if the employee quits, they could still pursue a claim for wrongful termination.

However, it is important to note that under Arizona law, even when those unpleasant or difficult working conditions exist, the employee still has to take certain steps before quitting in order for the resignation to be considered a constructive discharge. These steps primarily involve giving notice to the employer about the unpleasant working conditions and giving the employer a chance to fix the situation.

What Is Retaliation?

Retaliation is when an employer takes adverse employment action against an employee to get back at her for something she did, something she said, or something she refused to do or say. Retaliation for having reported illegal activity or for participating in an investigation against the company are common forms of illegal retaliation, but it is important to understand that not every type of retaliation is illegal. In fact, most firings, if the employer gives a reason for it, could be considered retaliatory. For example, if an employee is habitually late to work and he receives multiple warnings but still doesn’t fix the problem, then when he is eventually fired, it would be accurate to say he was fired in retaliation for his habitual tardiness. However, this type of retaliation is not illegal. In other words, it is not retaliation that is illegal—it is only illegal when the employer retaliates based on the employee’s participation in a protected activity.

Put another way, the only time the retaliation is illegal is if there is a specific legal prohibition against it—that is, if the Arizona legislature or United States Congress has enacted a law making such retaliation illegal. For example, Arizona’s Employment Protection Act provides is that if an employee is fired in retaliation for reporting or refusing to participate in activity that violates Arizona law, then that would be a wrongful termination. The Employment Protection Act also says that if an employee gets fired in retaliation for having made a worker’s compensation claim for an on-the-job injury then that also qualifies as a wrongful termination.

There are many other other statutes, both federal and state statutes, that address make certain types of retaliation illegal, and these laws fall into many different kind of categories. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for taking family or medical leave. As another example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the law which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion or sex) also contains provisions that make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who reports or otherwise opposes such discriminatory practices.

In short, retaliation is only illegal if it is specifically prohibited by law. For any employee who has been fired who feels like it might have been an illegal retaliation, a consultation with an attorney to find out if their specific situation qualifies as illegal retaliation would be warranted.

For more information on Employment At Will In Arizona, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (480) 378-0466 today.

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