Arizona employers and employees have an “at-will” relationship, which means that employers are free to fire employees without notice or reason, and employees are free to resign at any time without notice or reason. Of course, the at-will employment relationship is subject to the obligation of both parties to comply with other legal requirements, including contractual duties and compliance with various federal and state anti-harassment and discrimination laws.
To reduce the amount of wrongful termination and related litigation, the Arizona legislature enacted the Arizona Employment Protection Act in 1996. The Act established certain guidelines designed to clarify what did and did not constitute wrongful termination under Arizona law. Prior to the enactment of the Arizona Employment Protection Act, employers faced numerous lawsuits based on alleged oral promises and implied obligations, with differing results depending on the judge or jury. Several of those results had served to expand an employee’s right to sue in a way that the legislature found unacceptable.
The Arizona Employment Protection Act contains at least four important provisions that all Arizona employers and employees should be aware of:
First, there is a one-year limitation period for claims for breach of an employment contract or for unjustified dismissal. This means that such claims must be filed within one year from the termination date, significantly shortening the six-year contract limitation period that previously applied to some claims. However, it is significant that this limitation period does not apply to claims under the Arizona Civil Rights Law or pursuant to federal law arising out of unlawful discrimination due to, among other things, race, sex, disability, or age.
Second, there is an established presumption that employment relationships can be terminated at will, and that presumption will prevail unless there is an express written agreement stating otherwise. Typically, this will require a written contract signed by both parties, or an unequivocal warranty outlined in an employee handbook or handbook.
Third, the Arizona Employee Protection Act limits employee wrongful termination claims to express claims of breach of contract (described above), claims specifically permitted by Arizona statute, and “public policy” tort claims. . Importantly, even these claims are limited to cases where an involved law does not in itself provide for redress. Tort claims involve circumstances in which an employee is fired for refusing to violate the law, or reports to an employer who they believe is violating the law.
Finally, the Act expands sexual harassment claims so that certain claims can be made even when federal sexual harassment laws do not apply.
At the end of the day, the Arizona Employment Protection Act creates a legal environment in which it can be very difficult to successfully file a claim against an Arizona employer. Of course, every situation is different and the law is constantly changing, and if you believe your rights have been violated or you have been accused of wrongdoing, you should speak with an experienced Arizona employment attorney to determine what your rights and obligations are.