Employers are beholden to certain state and federal laws that govern the reasons an employee may be terminated. For instance, employers are prohibited from firing a worker based on the worker’s sex, race, color, religion, disability or age. Doing so would be discriminatory and the employer could face legal consequences. Employers are also barred from letting a worker go for retaliatory reasons or if doing so would be in violation of an employment contract.
At-will Employment in ArkansasMost states in the country are at-will employment states, including Arkansas. At-will employment means that either the employer or the employee may end the employment relationship at any time. It can be for any reason or no reason. Advance notice is not required. This does not, however, give an employer the right to fire an employee if it violates certain employment laws. Therefore, it is vital for employers to be cognizant of what circumstances may qualify as exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine.
Wrongful Termination in ArkansasWhile the at-will employment doctrine does give employers a wide range of discretion in hiring and firing employees, it does not give them free reign to terminate an employee in every situation. There are exceptions to the rule under both state and federal law. Employees may not be fired for discriminatory purposes and cannot be fired in retaliation for asserting their legal rights. Employers who violate the law or who violate the terms of an employment agreement may be required to reinstate the employee, in addition to paying back wages, future wages, possible damages and attorney fees.Breach of Contract: Employees who enter into a contract with their employer may not be considered at-will employees. If a written contract is negotiated and contains terms about the length of the employee’s position and what is considered just cause for termination, the employer is required to adhere to the terms of that agreement. Arkansas law also recognizes implied and oral contracts. For instance, if a company has a “three strikes” policy and that policy can be found in an employee handbook, that may be considered a contract. Any deviation by the employer of that policy could be considered a breach, and the employer may wind up in court.Discrimination: Federal law prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from firing an employee because of his or her race, color, sex, religion, national origin, or genetic information. Companies with more than 20 employees cannot discriminate based on age (if the employee is over 40), and employers with at least four employees cannot discriminate based on citizenship status. In addition, employers in Arkansas are banned from discriminatory firing based on physical, mental or sensory disability. Arkansas employers with at least nine employees are required to comply with all antidiscrimination laws.Retaliation: The laws that protect employees from workplace discrimination also protect them from being fired in retaliation for exercising their rights under the law. In other words, if an employee reports the company for a behavior that is illegal, the employer cannot fire the employee for making a complaint. This can be an illegal business-related behavior, such as illicit dumping of hazardous materials, or an employment issue, such as workplace safety or payment of minimum wage. The employee’s complaint does not ultimately have to be found valid, but it must have been made in reasonable good faith. Employers also may not retaliate against an employee for participating in any investigation or hearing about a complaint filed against his or her employer.Public Policy: There is also an at-will employment exception in Arkansas for matters of public policy. An at-will employee may have a cause of action against an employer if he or she is terminated and it is in violation of a clearly recognized public policy of the state. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for refusing to violate the law, for exercising his or her statutory right, such as the right to file for workers’ compensation, or for exposing an illegal activity. Legal Disclaimer
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