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What Makes a Termination ‘Wrongful?’

Many people who get fired believe that the action was unfair. Whether it’s illegal, which would make it “wrongful termination,” is another matter. Approximately 150,000 Americans are wrongfully terminated annually in the United States. Arizona is an “at-will” state, which means that most employees can be terminated for just about any reason, as long as it’s not illegal.

So how can you determine whether your termination was illegal? Let’s look at some reasons for terminating employees that are forbidden by law.


Employers can’t fire employees based on characteristics including race, gender, age, disability and sexual orientation. Since most employers are smart enough not to tell people that’s why they’re being fired, it can be difficult to prove.

However, if you don’t have a history of poor performance reviews or other issues that would lead your employer to fire you, that works in your favor if you file a wrongful termination claim. If you suffered verbal or other discriminatory harassment on the job, that could lend credence to your claim as well.

Violation of Public Policy

It’s illegal for businesses to fire employees for things like taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for military or National Guard service, to vote or to serve on a jury. Employers may find it inconvenient when employees take time off for these things, but they can’t penalize them for it.

Retaliation for Whistle-Blowing or Filing a Complaint

Employers can’t fire workers for complaining about harassment, safety or health issues in the workplace. Employees who report illegal activity by the company can seek protection from retaliation under whistleblower laws.

You were defamed. Even if your employer was within their legal rights to fire you, they can’t spread false information about you on your way out the door. Sometimes, employers try to justify firing someone by spreading inaccurate, derogatory information about them.

This can harm a person’s chances of getting another job. Depending on how public the defamation is, it can ruin a person’s reputation. If you can show that this was done maliciously and that the statements went beyond gossip, you may have a defamation case as well as a wrongful termination case.

If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, the best course of action is to talk with an experienced Arizona employment law attorney. They can help you determine whether you have a case.