A termination letter (formally known as a termination of services letter) is a formal document that records an employee’s last day worked and the reason they were terminated. It’s considered good form for an employer to provide an employee with a formal termination letter, but it’s not required by law. Because Arizona is an at-will employment state, employers are not required to provide a reason for termination — let alone a termination letter.

The only circumstances where a termination letter may be required are when the practice is required by company policy, a signed employment contract, or a collective bargaining agreement. When there’s an applicable policy or contract, the employer is obligated to follow the agreement to the letter.

Of course, even if your employer isn’t required to furnish a termination letter, you have the right to request one. In fact, if you suspect that you were wrongfully terminated, it’s wise to request a termination letter — even if you suspect your employer won’t be entirely forthcoming about the true reasoning behind your termination.

At-Will Employment

Employment “at-will” is an agreement between the employee and employer where either party may terminate the employment arrangement at any time, for any reason. The only exceptions to this rule are when you have a collective bargaining agreement, a signed contract, or a company policy stating otherwise (ARS 23-1501). Even then, these formal agreements only apply to the extent that they address circumstances that may lead to termination. 

If you’re thinking you need to pick up and head to a state that doesn’t make firing you so easy, think again. Forty-nine of the 50 states have adopted at-will employment laws, with the only exception being Montana. 

At-will employment may seem unfair to employees at face value, but it’s important for employees, too. At-will employment allows employees to change jobs freely, and it eliminates the need to offer notice (unless required by a collective bargaining agreement, signed contract, or company policy). Of course, just as it’s good form for an employer to furnish a termination letter, it’s good practice to provide advance notice when you quit your job.

Wrongful Termination

While employers are generally free to terminate and lay off employees at will, they cannot do so based on unlawful discrimination or retaliation. These situations are covered by federal, state, and local employment laws, and are subject to state and/or federal investigations. 

Some examples of wrongful termination based on discrimination or retaliation include:

  • Your superior or manager has made statements or taken actions against you that imply you were fired for discriminatory reasons
  • You reported illegal activity 
  • You submitted a complaint of workplace harassment or discrimination
  • You have a collective bargaining agreement or contract with the employer that limits how and when they may terminate employees
  • You filed a complaint about unsafe working conditions
  • You have requested a safety inspection
  • You revealed to your employer that you have a disability
  • A manager or superior has made statements or taken actions that imply you were fired due to a disability.
  • You announced that you’re pregnant
  • You applied for or used FMLA, and believe it to be a factor in your termination

If any of these situations apply to your case, you should speak with an employment law attorney as soon as possible. You may be in a position to file a complaint with a regulatory agency and file a civil lawsuit, but there are strict timelines that apply.

Can You Be fired Without Being Told?

Being fired without verbal notice is a slightly different issue than getting a termination letter. While an employer doesn’t have to issue a termination letter when firing you, somebody with the organization will need to inform you that you have been terminated. That doesn’t have to be your manager — the notification could come from HR or another manager/executive within the company. Without being notified, you could theoretically continue to work for the company, and your employer would be obligated to pay you for your time.

Furthermore, a company does not have to wait until you’re “on the clock” to fire you or inform you that you’ve been laid off. Whether the notice comes in the form of an email, physical letter, phone call, or text message (the latter is poor form but it’s still valid), you can be terminated or laid off after hours, on weekends, holidays, vacation time, or sick time. 

Final Paycheck

An employer is required to deliver the final paycheck to a terminated employee within seven days or on the next regular payday, whichever occurs first. Employers cannot withhold a paycheck unless there is a good-faith dispute. This includes circumstances where an employee is accused of property damage, property theft, or misuse of company credit. The employer may withhold a portion of the paycheck that equals the amount of the dispute until settled.

Does an Employer Have to Provide a Reason for Termination?

At-will employment grants an employer the right to terminate without cause. Unfortunately, that means your employer is under no obligation to provide a reason for your termination.

However, employees are protected under state and federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination and retaliation. Employees who are fired in retaliation or discrimination may file a complaint against the employer with one of the following agencies:

  • Wage and Hour Division (WHD) – for cases of retaliation against employees who file complaints or participate in investigations into unpaid wages, child labor infractions, and FMLA retaliation.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – for cases of retaliation against employees who file a workplace safety complaint, who request a safety inspection, or who participate in a workplace safety investigation.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – for cases of workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, pregnancy, age (over 40), and disability. The agency also handles cases of retaliation against employees who file a discrimination complaint or participate in an investigation of discrimination.

When Can You Sue for Wrongful Termination?

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated due to retaliation or discrimination, or if you have been terminated in violation of an applicable employment agreement, you have the right to sue your employer for wrongful termination. 

The first step is to meet with an attorney to discuss your case. Depending on the circumstances, you may be required to file a formal complaint with the appropriate federal or state regulatory agency before filing a civil lawsuit. In any case, you may sue your employer for lost pay, lost benefits, emotional distress, and punitive damages.

Receive Help With a Wrongful Termination in Arizona

Our employment law team at JacksonWhite can help you if you believe that you have been wrongfully termination based on discrimination or retaliation. An employment law attorney will fight for your rights to an equal opportunity. If you are ready to take further action, schedule a consultation with our experienced team online or give us a call today!

Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.

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