Unions, organized labor, and employment issues are a hot topic right now in American politics. Issues such as the minimum wage and right to work laws have been at the forefront of the public debate, especially since the recession in 2009 triggered massive layoffs and pay-cuts that continue to affect the economy almost 10 years later.
Regardless of your political views on the matter, it’s important to understand the applicable employment laws in your state and how they can affect you as a worker.
What are Right to Work Laws?
Right to work laws prohibit employers from using union membership as a condition of employment. That means a job applicant can’t be denied a position because they aren’t a union member, and an employee can’t be terminated because they refuse to join a union. Some right to work laws also include the additional stipulation that non-union employees can’t be required to pay union dues, even if the efforts of the union’s collective bargaining benefit the non-union employee.
Arizona Right to Work Laws for Private Employers
Arizona is a “right to work state.” Non-government employers can’t deny someone a job on the grounds that they aren’t with a local labor organization, and they can’t fire an employee based on their union membership status (ARS 23-1302). Employees in Arizona have the right to join unions, but unions cannot demand membership dues from employees who are not members of the union.
Arizona Right to Work Laws for Public Employers
Employees of state and local government agencies in Arizona are covered by the same right to work laws as private employees. They have the right to join a union but they are not required to, and they cannot be discriminated against based on union membership or dues. State and local government employees also cannot be required to pay non-union dues or fees.
Federal Right to Work Laws
All federal employees—including postal workers—are guaranteed the right to accept or decline union membership without fear of repercussions in the workplace. As with Arizona state and local government employees, federal employees cannot be required to pay union dues or fees. Note that these laws apply to all federal employees, regardless of where the federal agency office is located. That means government employees who work for a federal agency in a state without right to work laws are still protected.
Are There any Businesses that are Exempt from Right to Work Laws?
Airlines and railroad companies are not protected by a state’s right to work laws.
Which States have Right to Work Laws?
In addition to Arizona, the following states have right to work laws: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Right to work vs. at-will employment
At-will employment is often confused with right to work laws. Where right to work laws deal with organized labor, at-will employment refers to a voluntary employer-employee relationship where either party can terminate the relationship at any time. On the employee side, that means an employee who is not under contract with their employer can quit when they please, and there’s no requirement to give any advance notice to the employer (e.g. 2 weeks-notice). Similarly, employers who are not under contract with an employee can terminate at any time without advance notice.
That said, there are a few exceptions that protect the rights of employees against unlawful termination. An employer cannot terminate an employee in retaliation for participating in a protected activity, nor can they terminate someone due to discrimination against race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age (over 40), pregnancy, or disability.
Arizona also operates under the “good faith exemption,” meaning businesses should have just cause for terminating an employee, regardless of whether or not the company’s employee handbook or employment contracts require just cause for termination.
What Other Rights of Employees are Protected by State and Federal Law?
Besides the right to work, there are 5 core employee-rights that are protected by law:
- The right to fair compensation – the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the minimum wage at $7.25/hour and requires employers pay employees 1.5x wages for overtime. In Arizona, the state requires a higher minimum wage of $10.50/hour (ARS 23-363).
- The right to a safe workplace – all employees are to receive proper training and safety gear, and employers are required to maintain safe equipment for employees to operate. Employees who are injured on the job also have the right to worker’s compensation.
- The right to a workplace free from discrimination – federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age (over 40), pregnancy, or disability. Employees have the right to file a complaint and participate in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit without fear of employer retaliation.
- The right to reasonable accommodations – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) requires employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees with deeply-held religious beliefs (e.g. not forcing an employee to work on their Sabbath day). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) similarly requires employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job applicants with an actual or perceived disability. For disabled persons applying for a job or promotion, the employer needs to consider if they can fulfill the job’s responsibilities with or without reasonable accommodations. Employers are required to seek input from the disabled person regarding preferential accommodations, but employers are not obligated to provide accommodations that place an undue burden on the business.
- The right to a workplace free from harassment – Title VII also protects against sexual harassment in the workplace, especially harassment that leads to a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is typically defined by the severity and pervasiveness of the harassment, and how the harassment impacts the employee’s ability to do their job.
- Protection against employer retaliation – this is commonly known as whistleblower protection. Employees who engage in protected activities cannot be terminated without just cause.
Need Help With An Employment Law Issue?
The state of Arizona is a great place to live and work, but knowing the employment laws will help you a lot. Whether you are a newcomer to the state or a lifelong resident, understanding your workplace protections is good for your career, and the more you know, the better.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.
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