Arizona Discipline laws & HR compliance analysis

Arizona Discipline: What you need to know

Progressive discipline is a disciplinary model in which the severity of the punishment increases each time an employee commits an infraction. Generally, the progressive discipline scale starts with an oral reprimand, followed by a written warning, suspension, and finally, termination. Progressive discipline procedures are most often found in collective bargaining agreements and the public employment arena, but they are also found in the private sector.
There are two major problems with having a progressive discipline procedure in an "at-will" relationship. First, it can be time-consuming to administer the steps and generate the supporting paperwork. Second, in very limited circumstances, a progressive discipline procedure can transform an at-will employment relationship into a contractual one.
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Under Arizona's Employment Protection Act (EPA), in the absence of a written contract, private sector employment relationships are "severable at will" at any time by either the employer or the employee unless there is a written contract to the contrary specifying a duration of time for the employment relationship or otherwise restricting the right of either party to terminate the relationship. (AZ Rev. Stat. Sec. 23-1501).
A written contract may take the form of a legal document signed by both parties or it may be expressed in an employee handbook or manual distributed to employees provided that the handbook or manual specifically states that it is to be read as a contract of employment. Under the EPA, disciplinary policies in a handbook are unlikely to be viewed as binding on an employer unless the handbook states that it is to be read as a contract.
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