Alaska Termination Laws

July 8th 2024

In Alaska, termination laws govern the conditions under which an employee can be terminated, ensuring that dismissals are conducted fairly and legally. These regulations outline the rights and responsibilities of parties involved in ending an employment relationship. Understanding Alaska termination laws is crucial for both employers and employees to conduct the process properly and mitigate potential disputes.

This article explores the key aspects of termination laws in Alaska, providing a comprehensive overview of employee rights and employer responsibilities.

This Guide Covers

Legal Considerations for Termination in Alaska
“At-Will” Employment in Alaska
Lawful Termination in Alaska
Legal Protections During Termination in Alaska
Terminated Employee Benefits in Alaska
Layoffs in Alaska
Resignations in Alaska
Legal Cases Related to Wrongful Termination in Alaska

Legal Considerations for Termination in Alaska

Terminating an employee in Alaska involves adherence to specific legal requirements to protect both parties involved. Understanding these key legal aspects is essential to mitigate risks and ensure compliance with state law:

  • “At-Will” Employment Doctrine: Alaska follows the “at-will” employment doctrine, which means that employers can terminate employees and employees can resign for any reason or no reason at all, as long as it is not illegal.
  • Discrimination Laws: Terminations based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, disability, or age are prohibited under state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
  • Notice Requirements: While Alaska law generally does not mandate a specific notice period for termination, certain employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements may stipulate notice requirements.
  • Final Paycheck: Employers must comply with Alaska law regarding the timing and method of providing the final paycheck to terminated employees.
  • Unemployment Benefits: Terminated employees may be eligible for unemployment benefits, depending on the circumstances of their termination and employment history.
  • Retaliation Protection: Employees are protected from retaliation for exercising their legal rights, such as filing a discrimination complaint or reporting workplace violations.

“At-Will” Employment in Alaska

What is “At-Will” Employment?

“At-will” employment in Alaska refers to the principle that either the employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any lawful reason, without prior notice or cause, as long as it is not unlawful (e.g., discrimination or retaliation).

What are the Exceptions to “At-Will” Employment in Alaska?

Despite “at-will” being the default rule, there are exceptions where termination is not permissible. In Alaska, exceptions to “at-will” employment include:

  • Implied Contract Exception: Company policies, employee handbooks, and verbal assurances that suggest job security or that the employee will only be terminated for specific reasons, an implied contract may be formed. In such cases, termination must adhere to the terms of the implied contract.
  • Public Policy Exception: Employees cannot be terminated for reasons that violate public policy principles. For example, terminating an employee for refusing to engage in illegal activities, reporting violations of the law (whistleblowing), or exercising legal rights (such as filing a worker’s compensation claim) may be considered wrongful termination under the public policy exception.
  • Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: This exception implies that employers must act in good faith and deal fairly with employees in all aspects of the employment relationship, including termination decisions. Terminations made in bad faith or for malicious purposes may be challenged under this exception.
  • Statutory Protections: Various federal and state laws protect against termination based on certain protected characteristics, such as race, color, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy, and genetic information.
  • Contractual Agreements: If the employer and employee have a contractual agreement (including collective bargaining agreements) that specifies conditions for termination, such as requiring a certain notice period or establishing grounds for dismissal, the terms of the contract will prevail over at-will principles.

Employment Under Contract in Alaska

In Alaska, employment under contract refers to situations where the terms of employment are governed by a written agreement between the employer and employee. Employment contracts outline terms and conditions of employment, including but not limited to:

  • Job duties and responsibilities
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Duration of employment
  • Termination clauses

Contracts are enforceable as long as they do not violate state or federal law. If either party fails to fulfill their obligations under the employment contract, it may lead to a breach of contract claim.

Lawful Termination in Alaska

Legal Grounds for Termination in Alaska

Termination of employment in Alaska must comply with the principles of “at-will” employment, meaning an employer can terminate an employee for any lawful reason. However, some legal considerations and grounds guide termination decisions to ensure compliance with state and federal laws. Here are the primary legal grounds for termination in Alaska:

  • Performance-Based Reasons: Employers can terminate employees for reasons related to job performance, such as consistent underperformance, failure to meet job requirements or goals, or inability to perform essential job functions with or without accommodation.
  • Misconduct or Policy Violations: Termination may be justified if an employee engages in misconduct or violates workplace policies or codes of conduct. This can include actions like insubordination, dishonesty, theft, harassment, or other behavior that breaches employer rules.
  • Attendance Issues: Chronic absenteeism, habitual tardiness, or failure to adhere to established work schedules can be grounds for termination, especially if it negatively impacts productivity or disrupts operations.
  • Lack of Qualifications: If an employee lacks the necessary qualifications or credentials to perform the job effectively, termination may be considered if efforts to remedy the situation (such as training or accommodation) are unsuccessful.
  • Reduction in Force (RIF): Employers may terminate employees as part of a reduction in force or layoffs due to financial constraints, restructuring, technological changes, or other business-related reasons. Proper layoff procedures must be followed to avoid claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.
  • Legal Requirements and Compliance: Employers may terminate employees who fail to comply with legal obligations or requirements essential to the job. This can include failure to maintain necessary licenses or certifications, failure to comply with safety regulations, or failure to adhere to legal standards specific to the industry.

Read our comprehensive guide to firing employees in Alaska for further information.

How Do I File a Wrongful Termination Claim in Alaska?

Filing a wrongful termination claim in Alaska involves several steps primarily addressing instances where an employee believes they were unlawfully dismissed. First, you have to determine if your termination potentially violates state or federal laws. Gather documentation that supports your claim. Depending on the nature of your claim, you can file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Alaska Human Rights Commission (ACHR) before pursuing a lawsuit.

The statute of limitations for filing a charge with EEOC is within 180 days of the alleged discrimination and one year of the alleged discriminatory action for ACHR.

Legal Protections During Termination in Alaska

  • Alaska Human Rights Law: The Alaska Human Rights Law prohibits termination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, physical or mental disability, marital status, pregnancy, or age. This law aims to promote equal employment opportunities and prevent discriminatory practices in the workplace.
  • Alaska Wage and Hour Act: The Alaska Wage and Hour Act requires employees to pay employees their final wages within three working days of termination. This includes compensation for all hours worked, overtime, and any accrued but unused vacation time. The law also governs minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor standards, ensuring fair treatment of employees. This act aims to protect employees’ rights to fair compensation and timely payment upon termination.
  • Alaska Whistleblower Act: The Alaska Whistleblower Act protects employees from retaliation, including termination, for reporting illegal activities or violations of public policy by their employer. Employees can report issues such as workplace safety violations, environmental concerns, or other unlawful activities without fear of losing their jobs. This law fosters a safe and compliant work environment by supporting employee reporting.
  • Alaska Family Leave Act: The Alaska Family Leave Act provides eligible employees with the right to take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons without fear of termination. Employees are entitled to up to 18 weeks of leave in a 24-month period for purposes such as childbirth, child adoption, serious health conditions, or caring for a family with a serious health condition. Upon return from leave, employees are entitled to reinstatement to the same or an equivalent position. Termination in retaliation for taking protected leave is prohibited. This act mirrors the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) but with some differences in leave duration.
  • Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Act: The Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Act ensures safe working conditions by setting and enforcing workplace safety standards. Employees cannot be terminated for reporting safety concerns or refusing to work in unsafe conditions. This law promotes workplace safety and encourages employees to report hazards without fear of termination.
  • Alaska Unemployment Insurance Law: The Alaska Unemployment Insurance Law provides financial assistance to employees who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Terminated employees can apply for unemployment benefits, which offer temporary income support while they seek new employment. Employers cannot terminate employees in a way that would unjustly disqualify them from receiving these benefits.
  • Alaska Child Labor Law: The Alaska Child Labor Law regulates the employment of minors to ensure their safety, health, and welfare. Employers must adhere to restrictions on the types of work minors can perform and their working hours. Termination practices must comply with these regulations, ensuring that minors are not unfairly or illegally dismissed.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Termination decisions must not be influenced by these protected characteristics.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): The ADEA protects employees aged 40 and older from discrimination in the workplace, including termination based on age. Employers must ensure that termination decisions are not influenced by an employee’s age and are based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations. Termination decisions must not be based on an employee’s disability or failure to accommodate unless it causes undue hardship for the employer.
  • Fair and Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards. Employers must comply with these standards in their termination practices, ensuring employees receive all earned wages, including overtime upon termination.
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA): USERRA protects the employment and reemployment rights of individuals who serve or have served in the uniformed services. Employers cannot terminate employees based on their military service and must reemploy service members returning from duty to their previous equivalent positions.

Terminated Employee Benefits in Alaska

Terminated employees in Alaska may be entitled to various benefits and protections under state and federal laws. The specific benefits available to an employee depend on the circumstances of their termination and their employment agreement.

  • Final Paycheck: Employers must pay terminated employees all wages owed, including any accrued but unused vacation pay. Under Alaska Statute 23.05.140, the employer terminates the employment, final wages must be paid within three working days after the termination. If the termination is initiated by the employee, the final paycheck is due at the next regularly scheduled payday.
  • Unemployment Benefits: Employees who lose their job through no fault of their own may be eligible for unemployment benefits. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development administers these benefits. Eligibility is determined based on the reason for termination, work history, and the employee’s ability and availability to work.
  • Health Insurance Continuation: Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), employees who were covered by their employer’s health insurance plan have the right to continue with their health coverage for a limited period after termination.
  • Severance Pay: While not required by Alaska law, some employers may offer severance pay as part of an employment agreement or company policy. Severance packages vary and are negotiated between the employer and the employee.

Layoffs in Alaska

In Alaska, layoffs must adhere to the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. The WARN Act requires employers to provide 60 days advance notice of significant layoffs or plant closures affecting 50 or more employees. Failure to provide notice can result in liability for back pay and benefits for the period of the violation, up to 60 days. The act aims to give workers time to seek new employment or retraining opportunities before losing their jobs.

Resignations in Alaska

Employee resignations in Alaska can be classified as either voluntary or involuntary, each with distinct implications for both employees and employers. Understanding the differences and associated rights and obligations is crucial for managing the resignation process effectively.

Voluntary Resignations

A voluntary resignation occurs when employees leave their job in their own free will. In Alaska, employees are required to provide at least two weeks’ written notice before the date of resignation as a condition for resigning in good standing. An employee may withdraw a resignation at any time before the effective termination date with the appointed authority’s written approval.

Involuntary Resignations

An involuntary resignation occurs when an employee is compelled to resign due to circumstances created by the employer, such as constructive discharge or coercion. In such cases, resignation is not voluntary. Employees who resign involuntarily due to constructive discharge may be eligible for unemployment benefits and must receive their final paycheck three days after the termination date.

Employees who believe they were forced to resign under duress or due to unfair treatment may seek legal recourse.

Legal Cases Related to Wrongful Termination in Alaska

1. Mine Supervisor Awarded $215,000 in Disability Discrimination and Breach of Good Faith Termination Case

In the case of Nathaniel Todeschi v. Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, LLC., Nathaniel Todeschi, a mine supervisor at Pogo Mine in 2005, was responsible for the safety and production targets of up to ten employees. His role required him to spend a large part of his workday underground, traveling up to 30 miles in the mine during each 13-hour shift using company-provided tractors with minimal suspension. This led to significant back injuries, necessitating several surgeries. After returning to work, Todeschi was assigned to a desk job within a special project.

Upon completion of the project, he had to return to his underground supervisor role, driving the same tractors that had caused his injuries. Todeschi requested alternative transportation, but the company instead sent him for an independent medical exam. The exam concluded Todeschi could not meet the job’s lifting requirements and recommended providing him with a truck as an accommodation. However, Sumitomo Metal terminated his employment, stating Todeschi could not perform his regular job.

Todeschi sued Sumitomo Metal in 2011, alleging disability discrimination and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. He was awarded $215,000 in past lost income after the jury found the employer liable for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, although the company was not found guilty of termination due to disability.

Key lessons learned from this case:
  • Employers should take reasonable steps to accommodate employees who have suffered work-related injuries, especially when recommended by medical professionals.
  • The breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing indicates the importance of employers acting in good faith towards their employees, especially in situations involving medical conditions and accommodations.
  • The case highlights that even if an employer is not found guilty of disability discrimination, they can still be held accountable for other employment practices that may be deemed unfair or in bad faith.

2. Shaw Environment and Infrastructure Inc. Ordered to Pay $3.43 Million in Whistleblower Retaliation Case

In the case of Blakeslee v Shaw Environment and Infrastructure Inc., Paul Blakeslee worked as a facility manager for Shaw Inc. at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright. Blakeslee discovered that the company’s project manager owned a third of a private company leasing equipment to Shaw Inc., often without competitive bidding, which he believed constituted a conflict of interest. When Blakeslee began drafting a letter to inform the CEO about this issue, the project manager found out and threatened to fire him. The project manager followed through on this threat, dismissing Blakeslee the following Monday. Despite his termination, Blakeslee sent the letter to the CEO. The subsequent company investigation led to the termination of the project manager, but Blakeslee was not rehired.

Blakeslee sued Shaw Environment and Infrastructure Inc. for wrongful termination. After a four-year legal battle, the jury awarded him $445,574 in lost wages, $486,458 in non-economic damages for emotional distress, and $2.5 million in punitive damages, totaling $3.43 million.

Key lessons learned from this case:
  • Employers must protect employees who report unethical or illegal activities within the company. Retaliation against whistleblowers can result in significant legal and financial consequences.
  • Companies should have clear policies and procedures to identify and manage conflicts of interest to prevent unethical practices.
  • This case demonstrates that retaliation against employees for reporting misconduct can lead to substantial legal penalties and damages.

Learn more about Alaska Labor Laws through our detailed guide.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.