Employed Full-Time by Maricopa County
Not At-Will Employment
Being terminated from a job can be both frustrating and humiliating. In the critical time leading up to or right after termination, it is important to evaluate your options to ensure that you are not improperly left with the black mark of termination on your resume and to ensure that you were properly compensated for all of your hard work. While Arizona is an at-will employment state, there are exceptions to this rule. [For more information about at-will employment – click here.] One prime example where Arizona’s at-will employment policy does not apply is with regular employees of Maricopa County (unclassified, contract and temporary employees do not count as “regular” employees). In these circumstances, Maricopa County has rules that a regular employee can only be subject to an adverse employment action (such as suspension, demotion, termination) when there is actual “cause”. If Maricopa County fails to show proper “cause” then the regular employee is entitled to recover damages resulting from the adverse employment action including reinstatement and back pay for lost wages.
The Maricopa County rules outlines a list of “causes” which allows for Maricopa County to take disciplinary action against regular employees. This list includes but is not limited to the following items: fraud in securing or maintaining employment, incompetency, inefficiency, abuse of leave, neglect of duty, insubordination, dishonesty, etc. [For a complete list of “causes” please click here at pg. 5.] It is Important to note that none of these “causes” have corresponding definitions attached in the Maricopa County rules. This leads to ambiguity as whether a regular employee was properly subject to an adverse employment action. [For example, if an employee refuses to take on a task requested by his/her employer because he/she cannot timely complete the task with the other tasks he/she was previously assigned, then does that constitute insubordination or not?] In addition, unlike a normal court process, the Maricopa County Merit Commission does not publish its past decisions, which means a person cannot lean on past case law as guidance for their case. Because of this, it is paramount that a regular employee subject to an adverse employment action by Maricopa County finds a legal representative that not only knows how the Merit System process works, but who also has seen past decisions from the Maricopa County Merit Commission.
In addition to the benefit of only for “cause” adverse employment actions, regular employees of Maricopa County are also entitled to additional due process under the law. Unlike typical at-will employment matters where an employee can be terminated or demoted at any time, Maricopa County must provide its regular employees with written notice prior to taking an adverse employment action whether it is a suspension, demotion or termination. The rules also require Maricopa County to give its regular employees a chance to respond to the allegations raised against the regular employee before the adverse employment action becomes effective. Subsequently, if the adverse employment action goes into effect, and the regular employee disagrees, then the regular employee is allowed to appeal that decision and receive a hearing before one of the Maricopa County Merit Commissioners. These hearings are in essence, trials where the regular employee is allowed to call witnesses, present evidence, and to testify.
Because there is so much at stake at these hearings, it is important to obtain legal representation that has experience in these specific types of matter. If you feel that Maricopa County has taken a wrongful employment action against you whether it is a demotion, suspension or a termination, please contact Mesa AZ employment attorney Timothy Coons at Denton Peterson, PC to assist you in your case.