Date: March 2012
A common belief among many employers is that, because Arizona is an at-will employment state (i.e., in the absence of a contract, either party can break the relationship without cause), they can fire an employee without justification.
That is a risky position to take; in many cases, if you cannot articulate a good reason for the termination, you may face a wrongful termination lawsuit or administrative claim.
- Thus, before firing an employee, employers would be wise to analyze whether a jury would agree that the termination was justified. To limit potential exposure of employee damages stemming from wrongful termination, you should first consider the following factors:
- How long has the employee been with your company or organization?
- Is there an employment contract? If there is, what does it say?
- Can you articulate the reasons for termination?
- Are the grounds for termination consistent with the provisions of your employee manual or employment policies?
- Has the policy manual been changed recently?
- Do you have evidence to support your decision?
- Have you documented the events or employee conduct that led to your decision?
- Did you ask the employee for an explanation?
- Is the decision consistent with prior performance evaluations?
- Are there circumstances in the employee’s life that make the termination decision inappropriate?
- How have you responded to similar conduct by other employees?
- Is your action regarding this employee consistent with actions taken against employees in similar situations?
- Has the employee made allegations of company wrongdoing?
- Is the employee a member of a protected category?
- Does the employee have a serious health condition or a disability?
- Is the employee properly classified as salaried (versus hourly wage)?
- Is the employee’s cooperation necessary to the defense of claims in pending or threatened litigation by others?
- Have you considered alternatives to termination (e.g., resignation, transfer, demotion, final warning, suspension)?
- In general, would the termination be viewed as fair by a third party who knew both sides of the issue?
A detailed analysis of these factors should assist in reducing liability or in assessing the risk of a lawsuit or administrative claim resulting from an employee termination.