Is Arizona a Right to Work State?

FT Contributor
Two businessmen shake hands with the Arizona state flag in the background.
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Workers in Arizona have a number of state and federal protections. One of those protections is the right to work.

What Is Right to Work?

Right to work refers to the law that allows employees to decide whether they wish to join a union at their workplace or not. In other words, it ensures that union membership is not a condition of employment, and that you cannot be fired if you decide to join a union. It also protects workers from being fired if they decide to leave a union.

For employees in unionized workplaces, the right to work law also ensures that you’re covered by union contracts and negotiations even if you do not pay union dues or membership fees. The law prevents unions from negotiating contracts with employers that only benefit the union members. In short, right to work isn’t a guarantee of employment, but rather a guarantee that union membership is not a condition of employment.

Right-to-work laws also provide additional protections for workers. Unions cannot threaten employees (or their families or property) or do anything to coerce them to join the union. They also cannot force individuals to strike against their will or quit their jobs. It’s also illegal for unions to coerce others from refusing to do business with nonunion members, or develop contracts that require employees to belong to the union.

At-Will Employment

People sometimes mistakenly think right to work is the same thing as at-will employment. At-will employment means that both the employer and the employee have the choice to continue the employment agreement or not. This means that an employee can quit a job for any reason, and an employer can let someone go for any reason, provided it’s not illegal (e.g., race discrimination).

Most employers in the U.S. include at-will clauses in their employment handbooks, and ask employees to sign an acknowledgement of their at-will status when they are onboarded. Typically, these clauses contain language notifying employees that their at-will status can only be changed with written approval from senior management.

Although employment at-will is not the same as right to work, the protections provided by the right-to-work laws extend to at-will agreements. In other words, at-will employees cannot be fired for illegal reasons, and right to work makes it illegal to fire someone for not joining a union.

Is Arizona a Right-to-Work State?

Arizona is a right to work state. It is also an at-will employment state.

When Can You Be Fired in Arizona?

Under Arizona’s at-will employment law, employees can be fired at any time for any reason, provided that the reason is not illegal. Illegal reasons to fire someone include discrimination based on age, sex, race, color, ethnic background, disability, pregnancy, marital status, religion, HIV/IDS status, and sickle cell traits.

Federal laws regarding protected classes also apply to Arizona employers. Other unlawful reasons to let someone go from their job include instances in which the employer violates protections provided by the right-to-work laws (i.e., someone doesn’t want to join a union) and an employer cannot fire an employee when they exercise their legal rights, such as reporting safety violations or harassment.

Arizona law also considers violations of contracts and termination procedures as outlined in the employee handbook to be wrongful termination. Although you may be fired for a valid reason, if your employer does not follow the proper procedure for doing so, you may be able to keep your job.

That said, there are legally allowed reasons for getting fired in Arizona, including:

  • Failing to meet performance expectations;
  • Misconduct;
  • Repeated policy violations (for instance, regular tardiness or missed shifts);
  • Insubordination;
  • Dangerous behavior;
  • Publishing  slanderous statements against the employer;
  • Revealing trade secrets or confidential information;
  • Moonlighting or freelancing in violation of your employment agreement.

These are just some of the potential reasons you could be terminated. Individual employers may have different policies and your employment contract will outline specific criteria for losing your job.

Other Arizona Labor Laws

Right-to-work and at-will laws are not the only laws related to employment in Arizona. Some of the other important laws include the following.

Arizona Minimum Wage

As of 2020, the minimum wage in Arizona is $12 per hour. For employees who receive tips, the minimum wage is $9.00 per hour, provided that the wage plus tips is not less than $12 per hour. Family members and siblings, occasional babysitters, and government employees are exempt from minimum wage rules.

There is one important exception. In the city of Flagstaff, the minimum wage for 2020 is $13 per hour.

Arizona Civil Rights Act

The Arizona Civil Rights Act prevents employers from discriminating on the basis of mental or physical disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, color, or national origin. It also prohibits discrimination based on the results of genetic tests.

The Act allows employees to make claims related to harrassment for up to one year, and gives employers the right to fire employees for sexual assault, threats of violence, patterns of harassment, or hostile behavior without prior written notice. The Act provides paid sick leave for all employees, allows military members to take leave as needed to comply with orders, and allows crime victims to take time off without repercussions.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Arizona workers are protected under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a federal law that prevents employers from discriminating against employees for pregnancy or childbirth.

Arizona Union Member’s Rights

As with pregnancy protections, Arizona’s union members are protected by the federal National Labor Relations Act and associated laws. In short, Arizona’s workers are allowed to unionize, but cannot coerce others to join a union as outlined in the right-to-work laws.

Child Labor Laws

Arizona does not require minors to have work permits, but it does limit the hours that anyone under 18 can work. Workers under 16 years of age are only allowed to work three hours per day on school days, and eight hours on a non-school day, up to 18 hours per week. They also cannot work past 9:30 p.m. on school nights or 11 p.m. on non-school nights. During the summer, minors can only work up to 40 hours per week.

To protect young workers, Arizona has strict rules regarding the type of work that minors can do. Anyone under 17 years of age cannot use certain equipment, while anyone under 15 cannot work in manufacturing, construction, warehousing, and other operations.

Unemployment Laws

If you lose your job through no fault of your own (e.g. you get laid off or quit due to a dangerous workplace) you can apply for unemployment compensation. To qualify, you must have earned a minimum amount of wages, and be actively looking for work.

Under current laws, unemployment pays 4% of your earnings in your highest-paid quarter, for up to 25 weeks. Keep in mind that if you were fired for a legitimate reason, such as misconduct, you might not qualify for unemployment.

Workers’ Compensation Laws

Arizona requires employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance for employees. It is a no-fault state, meaning that injured employees are entitled to medical benefits and additional compensation regardless of who caused their injuries.

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