Like most states, Arizona is an at-will employment state, which means that the employment agreement can be severed or altered by the employer and the employee at any time, for any reason that doesn’t violate discrimination laws. Even if your employer hired you under the condition that you can’t work certain days or certain hours, the employer has the right to right to disregard these conditions and schedule you outside of your availability when necessary. Should you refuse to work your scheduled shifts, your employer is within its rights to fire you.
That said, most instances where an employer schedules an employee outside their availability window are due to simple mistakes or oversight. When an employer has multiple employees with various schedule conflicts, a scheduling mistake is bound to happen. The best course of action is to calmly bring the matter to your manager’s attention, and politely remind them that you gave them plenty of advance notice about your availability.
If scheduling you outside of your availability wasn’t a mistake and the employer genuinely needs you to work that day or time, there’s unfortunately nothing you can do unless there is a written agreement that pertains to the situation. The only exception would be that you cannot work on a certain day due to your deeply held religious beliefs, such as not working on Sundays or on a particular religious holiday. In these cases, your rights are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws, and your employer cannot force you to work on these days.
In the rare case where you are protected by a written agreement (most employment agreements are informal), the best course of action is speak with a human resources representative and request that they honor the agreement. If HR refuses, you may need to consult with an employment law attorney and take legal action to enforce the written agreement.
What About Overtime Meetings?
Your employer has the right to schedule mandatory meetings anytime, even if it’s outside of your standard availability window. The only requirement is that you must be paid overtime if the scheduled meeting puts you over 40 hours for the week.
There are three types of employment contracts that may apply to this situation:
- A written employment agreement – in most cases, a written employment contract must be signed by the employee and a representative of the employer. However, there are cases where the employer may be the only party to sign. If you have a written employment agreement, you’ll need to share this with your attorney to assess its validity and whether or not it protects you in this instance.
- Official company policy – to be considered legally binding, company policy must be printed in a company manual (such as the employee handbook) or in a formal memo that has been distributed to the employees (on paper or via email). If you’re covered by a company policy that protects against scheduling outside of your availability, HR should be able to handle the matter internally.
- A collective bargaining agreement – when a labor union reaches an agreement with an employer, both parties sign a collective bargaining agreement. You may not have actually signed the agreement, and you may not even be a dues-paying member of the union, but this agreement applies to everyone. If you are protected by a collective bargaining agreement, you should speak with a union representative who can defend your rights under the agreement.
In the absence of a written contract, all employment agreements are considered informal. Unfortunately, that means any verbal promises that you received from the hiring manager during your interview and on-boarding are typically not enforceable.
What If You Suspect Discrimination?
There are a number of federal, state, and local laws that prohibit an employer from terminating an employee based on protected characteristics. Unfortunately, discrimination is still a rampant issue in the United States, and it’s not uncommon to see a manager seek a legal means of firing someone (such as for refusing to work outside their availability) when the true motivation is unlawful discrimination.
Under federal employment laws, employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee or job applicant based on age, disability, genetics, nationality, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, and skin color. In certain parts of Arizona, state and local employment laws also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, family background, and family members’ immigration status. Furthermore, an employer cannot retaliate against you for filing a complaint of discrimination, harassment, or workplace safety, with retaliation including termination, discipline, demotion, or a detrimental schedule change.
If you suspect the true motivations behind your termination or discipline are discrimination or retaliation, you should speak with an employment law attorney as soon as possible.
What To Do If You Get Fired
Assuming you were terminated for refusing to work outside of your availability, chances are you were lawfully terminated as an at-will employee and there’s nothing you can do. However, if you’re suspicious about the terms of your termination and suspect that discrimination may have been a factor, here’s what you can do:
- Collect evidence to support your claim – start by obtaining a copy of any applicable employment agreements, such as a written employment contract, employee handbook, or collective bargaining agreement. Next, seek documentation of the alleged discrimination, such as a statement from a co-worker or an email from your manager. Finally, obtain proof of your good character, such as your annual performance reviews and your general employee file (this will prove that you were a good employee and shouldn’t have been fired).
- Consult with an attorney – once you have enough evidence to substantiate your claim, meet with an employment law attorney to discuss your case. If the attorney believes you were unlawfully terminated, he or she will advise you on what to do, and represent you if going to court is the best option.
- File a complaint with the appropriate government agency – before you can file a lawsuit against your employer, you must submit a complaint to the appropriate government agency. For most discrimination or harassment-based claims, you should file with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You should do this even if you don’t plan to file a lawsuit in civil court, as the EEOC can investigate and pursue your case for no charge, and if they find any evidence of wrongdoing, they will negotiate for a settlement on your behalf.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.
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