Employment Law

Employment-at-Will and Right-to-Work

The terms “employment-at-will” and “right-to-work” are often used in the world of work.  Both of these terms describe specific, and separate, state laws regarding employment.  Arizona is an employment-at-will state and a right-to-work state.  This article explains the difference between these two laws.

Employment-at-Will

Under employment-at-will, either the employee or the employer can end the employment relationship at any time.  Employment-at-will applies to all employees and employers in Arizona.

With employment-at-will, an employee does not guarantee that he will stay on the job for any amount of time. An employee can quit at any time for any reason even if the employer needs the employee to be at work.
On the other hand, employees can end the work relationship by firing or laying off employees at any time. Employers do not guarantee any job will exist for any amount of time.  Employers do not need to have a business reason for firing an employee.  An employer can fire an employee at any time for any reasons even if the employee needs their job.

There are exceptions to “employment-at-will.”  If an employer and employee have a written employment contract, the length of employment and the reasons the employment can end are determined by the contract. Employers may also limit themselves by creating their own policies that can be found in the employer's handbook.

Other exceptions to “employment-at will” are in various laws.  Federal and Arizona state laws stop an employers from firing an employee for a specific reason.  For example, employers cannot fire an employee based upon their race, national origin, disability, age over 40, and other protected statuses. Other laws prevent an employer from firing an employee for taking time off under the Family Medical Leave, participating in jury duty, filing a workers compensation claim, or refusing to participate in any illegal behavior.

Because of all the federal and state laws that place restrictions on the employers’ right to fire employees, “employment-at-will” does not leave employees as vulnerable to job loss “for any reason” as was the case when courts first established “employment-at-will.”

Right-to-Work

The Right-to Work law applies to employees that work for an employer that has a union contract with a union. Under a Right-to-Work law, an employee cannot be forced to join a union. 

In some states, but not Arizona, a company and union can have a union contract that requires employees to join the union and pay union dues.  The employee must join the union after being employed for a certain amount of time.

In Arizona, and other Right-to-Work Law states, an employer and union cannot require an employee to join the union.  The employee has a “right-to-work” without joining the union and having to pay union dues to the union.

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