The employee handbook at your job might say that your employment is on an at-will basis, which means that your employer has the right to fire you at any time, but there is more to the story than that. Your employer does not have the right to fire you in response to your engaging in actions protected by federal and state labor laws. Likewise, if your employer does not terminate your employment, but instead takes some other kind of adverse action against you, such as demoting you or reassigning you to a different work location where you have a longer commute, your employer does not automatically get to have the last word. If you disagree with your employer’s decision to terminate your employment or to take some other adverse action against you, you have the right to challenge the action or the justification for it. This especially applies in the case of employer retaliation, which is when an employer punishes you for exercising your legal rights as a worker. The Phoenix employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you protect yourself from retaliation by your employer.
When is it Acceptable for Your Employer to Terminate Your Employment?
Arizona is an at-will employment state. This means that, except in situations where the employer and employee have signed a written contract that specifies the duration of the employment relationship, the employee has the right to quit at any time, and the employer has the right to terminate the employee’s job at any time. Despite this, the employer does not have the right to terminate the employment relationship as retaliation for an employee engaging in a legally protected action, in other words, for exercising your legal rights as a worker.
What is an Adverse Action?
An adverse action, when taken justifiably, is something that an employer does as a consequence of an employee’s misconduct. When unjustified, adverse actions are manifestations of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. These are some examples of adverse actions by employers:
- Termination of employment
Denial of raises or promotions
Reduction of pay
Demotion or reassignment to a less prestigious or authoritative position or an undesirable work location or work schedule
An unfairly negative performance review, used internally or as a reference in the employee’s future job applications
Threatening to cancel sponsorship for the employee’s work visa or green card or the immigration status of the employee’s spouse or children
What is Protected Conduct?
Protected conduct is any action that, according to federal or state laws, you have the right to do, and your employer does not have the right to take adverse action against you because of it. These are some examples of legally protected conduct for workers in Arizona:
- You have the right to demand and receive fair pay for your work. In Arizona, the minimum wage is $12.15 per hour for non-tipped employees and $9.15 per hour for tipped employees. Most employees are eligible to receive overtime pay, which is 1.5 times the employee’s hourly rate for every hour past the 40th that you work in a given week.
- You have the right to a workplace that is free of discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, age, gender, and disability. Your employer does not have the right to retaliate against you if you complain about discriminatory behavior that is being directed toward you or toward one of your coworkers. It is also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you if you participate in an investigation into an existing discrimination complaint against your employer.
- You have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim if you get injured at work. You also have the right to dispute your employer’s denial of the claim.
Pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you have the right to take an unpaid leave of absence from work for up to 12 weeks because of your own illness or that of a close family member, the birth or adoption of a child, and certain life events related to your own military service or that of a close family member.
- If you have shown documentation to your employer disclosing that you have a disability recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), you have the right to request reasonable accommodations from your employer. You and your employer can agree on an accommodation that enables you to do your job without causing undue hardship to your employer.
- If you have witnessed misconduct by your employer, you have the right and responsibility to report the violation to the relevant regulatory authority. For example, if there is a safety violation at your workplace, you should report it to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
What to Do if You Experience Retaliation in Your Workplace
If your employer has retaliated against you because you have exercised your rights under federal or state law, you should contact an employment lawyer. If you file a complaint against your lawyer, you will have a chance to show how your employer’s adverse action against you was retaliation, but your employer will also have a chance to show that it was not. In other words, your employer will try to show that their adverse action was warranted because of your misconduct or poor performance. Therefore, if you have filed a complaint against your employer, or if you plan to file a complaint, you should go on doing your job like normal and not burn bridges. If you quit your job, your employer might try to argue that you quit because you knew that your employer had a reason to fire you.
Contact an Arizona Employment Lawyer About Employer Retaliation
An employment lawyer can help you protect your rights if you have engaged in a legally protected activity, such as reporting a violation or filing a complaint, and your employer has retaliated against you because of it. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Phoenix, Arizona to set up a consultation.