The Arizona Employment Protection Act and the Employment-At-Will Relationship

Arizona employers and employees have an “at-will” relationship, meaning they can terminate or quit their jobs without notice or reason. However, both parties must adhere to legal requirements, including contractual duties and federal and state harassment and discrimination laws.

The Arizona Employment Protection Act was enacted in 1996 to reduce wrongful termination and related litigation. The Act established guidelines regarding what constitutes wrongful termination under Arizona law. Prior to its enactment, employers faced many lawsuits based on alleged oral promises and implied obligations, resulting in divergent outcomes based on the judge or jury’s decision. Some outcomes expanded an employee’s right to sue in a way that the legislature found unacceptable.

The Arizona Employment Protection Act has four significant provisions:

Firstly, claims for breach of an employment contract or wrongful termination have a one-year statute of limitations. Such claims must be filed within one year of the termination date. However, this limitation period does not apply to illegal discrimination due to race, sex, disability, or age, pursuant to the Arizona Civil Rights Act or federal law.

Secondly, there is a presumption that employment relationships can be terminated at-will unless there is an express written agreement stating otherwise.

Thirdly, the Act limits wrongful termination claims to express breach of contract claims, specific Arizona statute-allowed claims, and “public policy” tort claims. However, even these claims are limited where a statute involved does not itself provide for a remedy. Tort claims allow lawsuits when an employee is fired for refusing to break the law or reporting an employer breaking the law.

Lastly, the Act expands sexual harassment claims so that certain claims may be pursued even where federal sexual harassment laws might not apply.

The Arizona Employment Protection Act makes it challenging to pursue a claim against an Arizona employer. But, if your rights have been violated or you have been accused of wrongdoing, it’s best to speak with an experienced Arizona employment lawyer to determine your rights and obligations.

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