Employment Termination in Arizona

Terminating an employee. It happens, for many reasons, and it is becoming more dangerous simply because employee complaints are easy to make to the EEOC or NLRB, and can be difficult for employers to win. At a minimum, the time and expense of responding to complaints is a cost to be avoided, if possible. What should an employer know about Arizona?

Arizona employees are at-will employees, unless the employee and employer “have signed a written contract to the contrary.”  The legislature made that clear with "The Arizona Employment Protection Act," A.R.S. § 23-1501. In Arizona, any "implied contract claims," which can be thought to be employer representations or statements, customs, or practices, cannot create employment contract rights for employees. But, the breach of an express written agreement (i.e., and employment contract or a policy in a employee manual that could be interpreted as a contract) limits the employer’s right to fire at-will.

"At-will" means that an employer is free to discharge individuals 'for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,' and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work." The exception, of course, is that the termination cannot be for a reason "contrary to public policy."  It is the exceptions that matters. "At-will" does not mean unrestricted.

One note. "At-will" and "Right to Work" are different. A Right to Work law guarantees that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay dues to a labor union. Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act affirms the right of states to enact Right to Work laws. Arizona is one of twenty-five state that have a Right to Work law.

Is there a written employment contract? Is there a contract because of a poorly crafted employee manual? Is the employee protected by public policy? Public policy? That means that the a termination cannot be motivated by the protected classes of race, religion, age, national origin, or sex; or in retaliation for asserting a public policy right; or being a whistleblower; or exercising employee organizing rights (which are very broad); and other areas. Is the employee subject to the Americans with Discrimination Act? Are there Family Medical Leave Act issues? The exceptions are numerous.

Ready, aim, well . . .  analyze.