Your Rights as an Employee
“At Will” Employment
The majority of private-sector workers in Arizona are employees “at-will.” Employment on an “at-will” basis means the employment is not covered by a written contract or bargaining agreement, and the employment relationship may be ended (i) for any reason not prohibited by law or for no reason, (ii) at any time, (iii) by either the employee or the employer, and (iv) with or without cause.
Most non-union employees are not covered by a written employment contract. If you do have a contract, it should describe the length of your employment, your job duties, and the circumstances under which your employment can be terminated. To be considered a binding written contract, the contract must fall into one of the following categories:
- A written agreement signed by the employer and the employee.
- An agreement in an employee handbook or manual expressly stating that it is intended to be an employment contract.
- A written document that the employer signs indicating that you will be employed for a specified certain period of time.
What You Should Know About Your Paycheck
Most employers are required to pay you:
- At least twice a month
- Not more than 16 days apart
- On regularly scheduled paydays
If the employer pays wages by automatic deposit or payroll debit card, the employer must furnish the employee with a statement of earnings and withholdings.
An employer can withhold any portion of an employee’s wages if:
- It is required or empowered to do so by court order for civil judgment or child support payments.
- It has prior written authorization from the employee (for example, such as a payroll deduction for an insurance premiums, or a payroll deduction for charity, or deductions for uniforms or equipment not returned to the company when the employment ends).
- There is a reasonable good faith dispute as to the amount of wages due the employee, but only the amount in dispute may be withheld.
If an employee is terminated, the employer must pay all wages due within seven working days or at the end of the next regular pay period, whichever is sooner.
Under Arizona law, “wages” include commissions, compensation paid by the hour or by the piece, and severance pay/sick pay/vacation pay if the company offers them. If you are terminated, you may be entitled to be paid for accrued and unused sick pay or vacation pay under certain circumstances.
Employers are required to pay non-exempt employees 1½ times the employee’s regular hourly rate for any hours worked over 40 during any single workweek. Overtime cannot be offset by working fewer hours in the second week of the pay period.
Arizona and federal laws prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin. Employers with fewer than 15 employees may be exempt from some but not all discrimination laws. In addition, some cities and towns, such as Phoenix and Tucson, have passed local ordinances prohibiting certain other types of discrimination; check with your local equal employment opportunity office for further information. Phoenix and Tucson prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and marital status. Tucson also prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status.
Employers are also prohibited from discriminating against individuals due to pregnancy, family medical leave and veteran status. Laws also protect employees from retaliation in employment because an employee has complained of discrimination or participated in certain conduct, called “protected activity.” Protected activity can include participating in an investigation into alleged discrimination, or asserting the employee’s own legally protected rights. Employees who report to the appropriate authority inside or outside the company what they in good faith believe is wrongful conduct by the employer may also be protected against retaliation as a “whistle-blower.” Special “whistle-blower” rules apply for government employees.
What if I Think I’ve Been Discriminated Against?
Anyone who believes they have been the subject of employment discrimination may file a charge of discrimination with:
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)— in most cases within 300 days of alleged discriminatory act, but in some cases the deadline is 180 days from the alleged discriminatory act.
- Arizona Civil Rights Division (ACRD) of the Attorney General’s Office—within 180 days of alleged discriminatory act.
After a charge is filed, an investigation is generally conducted by the agency, at no cost to the person filing the complaint.
The investigating agency will make a determination of Cause or No Cause. The agency will usually issue a “right to sue” letter to the person who filed the complaint, regardless of its findings. An employee who receives a “right to sue” letter has 90 days from receipt of the letter in which to file a civil suit against the employer, if so desired. After 90 days, the employee loses the right to sue the employer for discrimination.
What Legal Recourse Do I Have if I Am Fired?
You may file an action for wrongful termination within one year after termination of your employment. An employee may sue for wrongful termination under four circumstances.
- If the employer terminates an employee in violation of a written employment contract.
- If an employer terminates a worker for discriminatory reasons and the EEOC or ACRD has given the worker a “right to sue” letter.
- If an employer terminates an employee in retaliation for legally-protected conduct such as refusal to commit an illegal act, certain “whistle-blowing,” or the employee’s exercise of a statutory or public obligation (workers compensation, labor or voting rights, military or jury duty, victim’s leave, etc).
- If a public sector employer violates specific rights granted to public sector employees by federal constitution, state statute or other government regulations or contracts.
Privacy in the Workplace
Private sector employees do not have the same right to privacy at work as they do at home. Employers may have the right to review, monitor or have access to your:
- Work areas including offices, desks, drawers and lockers
- Computer system and files
- Email and internet use
- Voice mail
Federal law imposes strict guidelines on conducting polygraph testing in the workplace. These guidelines include the circumstances under which testing can be administered, actual administration of the test, notice to the employee and the employee’s rights.
Equal Pay for Men and Women
Federal and Arizona laws prohibit employers from paying an employee less than the rate paid to employees of the opposite sex for the same quantity and quality of the same classification of work. However, pay rates can be different when there is a difference in seniority, length of service, ability, or skill; a difference in duties or services performed; a difference in the shift or time of day worked, hours of work; or any other reasonable factor other than sex.
Workplace Drug Testing
Arizona regulates drug testing by statute. Employers may adopt a policy that requires applicants and employees to submit to drug and alcohol tests before being hired and during employment. These tests can be conducted on a random or periodic basis.