Arkansas Wrongful Termination Laws

Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Arkansas, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.

But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if your Arkansas employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, you may have a legal claim against your employer.

Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your employer in Arkansas for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Arkansas employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, you should speak  to an experienced Arkansas employment lawyer. To learn more about Arkansas employment law, you can also contact the state  Department of Labor.

Discriminatory Firing

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire someone based on a protected characteristic, such as race or religion. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees because of their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information.  However, only certain employers  must comply with these laws. For most types of discrimination, the laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees. However, the prohibition against age discrimination applies to employers with 20 or more employees, and the ban against citizenship status  discrimination  applies to employers with only four or more employees.

Arkansas law prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, religion, and physical, mental or sensory disability. In Arkansas, employers with nine or more employees must comply with these laws.

These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint.  Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation  of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.

Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit,  you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency.  In Arkansas, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) area office in Little Rock enforces federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination; you can find out where to file a complaint at the EEOC’s Field Offices page.

Breach of Contract

If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee.  In Arkansas, an employment contract may be written, oral, or implied. In the first two types of contracts, your employer makes oral or written promises not to fire you for a certain period of time without good cause. In an implied contract, your employer doesn't make express promises, but acts in a way that creates a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed.  If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you  have a legal claim for breach of contract.

Wage and Hour Issues

The minimum wage in Arkansas is currently $7.50 an hour. Employees who work more than 40 hours in a week are entitled to overtime pay, at time and a half.  Arkansas does not require employers to give meal or rest breaks during the work day. However, if an employer chooses to provide breaks, it must pay for any breaks that are 20 minutes or less. Under federal and state law, employees may not be fired or retaliated against for filing a wage complaint, testifying in a legal proceeding, or otherwise asserting their rights under these wage laws.

Time Off Work

State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Arkansas, these rights include:

  • Military leave. Under federal law, employees have the right to take up to five years of leave to serve in the military, with the right to be reinstated when they return to work. (This law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service, protects employees from discharge without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty, and provides other protections; see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave for more information.) Arkansas law extends these rights to members of the National Guard, militia, or reserves of Arkansas or any other state who are called to active state duty.  
  • Jury duty. Employees are entitled to take unpaid leave while they serve on a jury, without any loss of vacation rights or sick leave. Employers who fire or penalize an employee for jury service are subject to criminal penalties.
  • Voting. Arkansas employers must schedule employees’ work hours on election days to allow them to vote.
  • Family and medical leave. Although Arkansas does not have its own family and medical leave law, Arkansas employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law gives eligible employees who work for larger employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a new child, or to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees can take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military. Employees who take FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position they previously held once their leave is over. For more information, see the articles at Nolo's FMLA page.  

Other State Claims

  • Workers' compensation. Employers may not treat applicants or employees less favorably due to their current or past claims for workers' compensation benefits.  
  • Legal obligations. Employers cannot fire employees for refusing to violate a statute or for challenging the employer's violation of a federal or state law. Likewise, employers cannot fire employees for exercising any rights granted to them by statute.  

What to Do Next

If you think you were fired illegally, talk to an Arkansas employment lawyer right away.  A lawyer can help you sort through the facts and assess the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also inform you of other state or local claims that you may have in addition to those listed above.  Whether you want to try to get your job back, negotiate a severance package, or sue your employer in court, a lawyer can walk you through your options and help you decide on how best to proceed.

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