Alaska Wrongful Termination Laws

Have you recently lost your job in Alaska? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Alaska, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all, as long as the reason for the firing is not illegal.

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

This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your employer in Alaska. Laws change, however, and this is not a comprehensive list of Alaska employment rights. To find out what your legal claims are, you should consult with an experienced Alaska employment lawyer. To learn more about Alaska employment law, you can also contact the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Discriminatory Firing

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, 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.

Alaska law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex under any circumstances. Alaska also prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, disability, sex, pregnancy, parenthood, and marital status, unless the job reasonably demands that a distinction be made on the basis of one of these characteristics. These laws apply to all employers, even those with only one employee.

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 race, 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 Alaska, the Commission for Human Rights enforces the state’s discrimination laws; you can file a complaint over the phone or in person at the Commission's office in Anchorage. Often times, state fair employment practices agencies will record your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, you should check to make sure. If not, you may also have to file a complaint with the EEOC; you can find contact information for the nearest office at the EEOC’s Field Offices page.

Breach of Contract

You may not be an at-will employee if you have an employment contract promising you job security. In Alaska, 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. For example, if your employer makes comments about you having a "long future at the company as long as you perform well," that may create an implied contract. 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

In Alaska, employees have the right to be paid a minimum wage of $9.84 per hour. Employees are also entitled to overtime pay when they work more than eight hours in a workday or more than 40 hours in a workweek. It's illegal in Alaska for an employer to fire, discipline, or take other negative action against employees for filing minimum wage or overtime complaints, testifying in proceedings related to minimum wage or overtime violations, or otherwise asserting their rights under these 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 Alaska, 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.) Alaska law allows members of the state organized militia (which includes the Alaska National Guard, Alaska Naval Militia, and Alaska State Defense Force) to take unlimited unpaid leave from their jobs and to be reinstated when their leave is over.
  • Jury duty. Employees are entitled to take unpaid leave while they serve on a jury, and they may not be penalized in any way for serving.
  • Voting. Employees may take as much paid time off as needed to vote, unless they have two consecutive hours off at the beginning or end of their shift while the polls are open.
  • Family and medical leave. Although Alaska does not have its own family and medical leave law, Alaska employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for their own serious health conditions, 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 on 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 in Alaska are prohibited from firing or otherwise discriminating against an employee who has filed a workers' compensation claim or who has received workers' compensation benefits, as long as the employee has acted in good faith.
  • Workplace safety. Employers may not fire or discriminate against employees who make complaints about violations of occupational health and safety standards or who participate in legal proceedings regarding such violations.

What to Do Next

If you think you were fired illegally, you should talk to an Alaska employment lawyer as soon as possible. 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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