Do I Have a Claim for Wrongful Discharge in Arizona?

Arizona is an at-will employment state.  This means that an employee can be fired or an employee can end his/her employment at any time unless otherwise dictated by contract, employee handbook, state law or federal law.  Many situations fall outside of these exceptions.  In those instances a person has no claim for wrongful discharge.   However, some terminations are wrongful.  This blog will analyze the ways in which termination can be wrongful.

1)   Wrongful Discharge Based on an Employment Contract

In some instances, an employment contract exists when an employee is hired for a definite period of time.  This is different than when an employer makes an employment offer to an employee for an indefinite term.  The employment term may be for a period of time (i.e. 1 year) or for the duration of a specific project.  When an employer terminates a contract employee, the first place an employee must look to determine their remedies is the employment contract.

Employment contracts often have provisions regarding when it is appropriate to terminate an individual’s employment. If an employee is terminated “for cause” (for bad conduct or breach of the agreement) then this usually means that the termination is not wrongful.  In other words the employee does not have a chance to sue the employer.  Obviously this does not hold true when the employer simply states that the employee was fired “for cause” but that is actually not the case.  If the employee is not terminated “for cause” then it will be important to look at the contractual remedies available to an employee.  It may be wrongful for an employee to terminate an employee without giving proper notice, or without paying the employee for a notice period.  The contract will dictate the remedies.  However, the contract employee still has protection under state and federal law.  Additionally, the contract termination provisions may be invalid if it allows the employer to terminate the employee at any time, but does not allow the employee the chance to leave at any time.

Wrongful termination based on an employment contract is a fact specific analysis.  If a question arises, it is important to have the contract reviewed by an employment attorney.

2)   Wrongful Discharge Based on an Employment Handbook

In some instances, an employee handbook can create an employment agreement.  This only happens when both parties sign the handbook.  In those instances, please refer to the information stated above regarding employment contracts. Additionally, if the handbook limits the ability of the employee to terminate its employment at any time then it may form an implied contract.

These situations are facts specific and require a thorough reading of the employee handbook and the circumstances surrounding the signing of the contract.

3)   Wrongful Discharge Based on State Statute

Arizona has laws regarding wrongful termination. The applicable law is A.R.S. § 23-1501.  An employer cannot terminate an employee if it is for the following reasons:

1) Discrimination covered by the Arizona Civil Rights Act
2) Retaliation when the employee reports health and safety violations
3) The employer does not timely or adequately pay the employees’ wages
4) Retaliation against public employee for bringing forward matters of “public concern”
5) Retaliation against agricultural workers for organizing and collectively bargaining
6) Retaliation against employee for refusal to violate the law
7) Retaliation against employee for disclosing information to a supervisor or employer that employee believes employer is violating law
8) Retaliation against employee for exercising worker’s compensation rights
9) Retaliation against employee for serving on a jury
10) Retaliation against employee for voting
11) Retaliation against employee for participating in a labor union
12) Retaliation against employee for participating in the armed service
13) Retaliation against employee for not taking part in extortion
14) Retaliation against an employee for exercising victim’s rights

This is not a comprehensive list, but it does outline some of the more common causes of wrongful termination.  If a statute provides a specific remedy, then that is the remedy available to the terminated employee.  If no remedy is provided by a statute, then the terminated employee can bring a tort claim.

Just like with wrongful termination under breach of contract, wrongful termination due to violation of state law is a very specific fact analysis. It is important to have an attorney review the facts of a case to determine if employer’s actions qualify under any of the statutory provisions.

4)   Wrongful Discharge Based on Federal Statute

Finally, an employer cannot terminate an employee if it violates a federal law.  There are several different laws that can come into play and whether the law applies depends on factors such as, how many employees the employer has; how long the employee has worked for the company; whether the employee was full time or part-time; and many other factors.

In general an employer cannot terminate an employee for the reason of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability.  Additionally, an employer cannot terminate a person in retaliation for that employee engaging in protected activity such as, filing a complaint, refusing to obey apparently discriminatory actions, engaging in concerted activity with other employees, or reporting an injury or violation of law.  This is not meant to be a complete list of relevant laws, but it should provide some idea what types of actions may be available.

Because each employment termination is very facts specific, it is important for an individual to have an Arizona employment attorney review what options are available based on the situation.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Do I Have a Claim For Wrongful Discharge?, or any other personal injury, please feel free to contact Employment Law Attorney Brad Gardner at  480.461.5323,  log on to,  or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.