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Quick and Easy Guide to Labor & Employment Law: Arkansas

This state-specific guide covers labor and employment case law, statutes, rules, and regulations that HR professionals and clients often encounter or have questions about in Arkansas.

At-Will Employment

The employer/employee relationship is governed by the at-will employment doctrine. This means that either party may terminate the relationship at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice. An employer, however, shall not discharge an employee solely for refusing to participate in, or refusing to remain silent about, illegal activities, or in violation of a well-established public policy. Sterling Drug, Inc. v. Oxford, 743 S.W.2d 380 (1988); Palmer v. Ark. Council on Eco. Edu., 40 S.W.3d 784 (2001). Further, the terms and conditions of an employer's Employment Manual or Handbook may narrow and restrict the employment at-will doctrine. Ball v. Ark. Dept. of Comm. Punishment, 340 Ark. 424 (2000).

In Marlow, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that because it has "held that when an employee brings a wrongful-discharge action in violation of public policy there is an exclusive contract cause of action, attorneys' fees may be properly awarded in this type of case at the circuit court's discretion pursuant to [Ark. Code Ann.] section 16–22–308." Marlow v. United Sys. of Ark., Inc., 2013 Ark. 460, 2013 WL 6047032 (Ark. 2013)

Right to Work Laws

An employer cannot deny nor otherwise condition an employee's right to work upon that employee's membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-3-302, -304. Further, it is the public policy of Arkansas that an employer cannot deny nor otherwise interfere with an employee's right to organize, or to bargain collectively, by and through a labor organization. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 11-3-301; Ark. Const. Amend. 34. Nonetheless, an executive, administrative, professional or supervisory employee shall not be a member of otherwise accepted for membership in any such labor organization.

Immigration Verification

Arkansas places no additional employment verification procedures on employers beyond Federal I-9 compliance. There is no requirement to use E-Verify under Arkansas state laws.

Drug Testing

The State of Arkansas does not have any laws in place regulating drug testing of employees. However, under the Workers' Compensation Act, employers can receive an insurance premium discount of 5 percent for establishing a drug-free workplace policy. The Workers' Compensation Drug Free Workplace Program, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 11-14-101–112; Ark. Workers' Comp. R. 36 (see additional Information), includes guidelines and requirements for workplace drug testing. There is also the Commercial Driver Alcohol and Drug Testing Act found at Arkansas Code Section 27-23-201 et. seq., which applies to employers required to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Employers should cautiously approach drug testing as it can present substantial hurdles.

Jury Duty Leave

It is unlawful for an employer to persuade or attempt to persuade any juror to avoid jury service; to intimidate or to threaten any juror in that respect; or to remove or otherwise subject an employee to adverse employment action as a result of jury service if the employee provides reasonable notice of his or her absence. Additionally, it is unlawful for an employer to require or request an employee to use annual, vacation or sick leave for time spent responding to a summons for jury duty. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-31-106. No Arkansas state law requires the employer to pay wages while an employee is on jury duty.

Voting Leave

On election days, each employer in the state must schedule the work hours of employees so that each employee will have an opportunity "to exercise the right of franchise," which is the right to vote. Ark. Code Ann. § 7-1-102.

Parental Leave

The State of Arkansas does not require a private employer to offer to its employees parental leave. However, the employer is subject to the federal Medical Leave Act and its requirements. The Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 prohibits discrimination based on gender, which includes pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-101 et seq. The Act applies to employers with nine or more employees. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-102(5). Under the Act, the employer must provide the same leave benefits to women affected by pregnancy as are provided for other temporarily disabled employees. Moreover, under the Arkansas Uniform Attendance and Leave Policy, public employers must treat maternity leave as any other leave for sickness or disability. Ark. Code Ann. § 21-4-209.

Other Leave

The State of Arkansas does not require private employers to offer to employees paid vacation or sick leave. However, the employer is subject to the federal Family Medical Leave Act and its requirements. Moreover, the Arkansas Uniform Attendance and Leave Policy applies to public employers and requires that public employees receive paid sick leave for sickness; injury; medical, dental or optical treatment; or for the death or serious illness of an immediate family member. Ark. Code Ann. § 21-4-206.

Smoking Laws

Under Section 20-27-1804(b) of the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006, Ark. Code Ann. § 20-27-1801, et seq., smoking is prohibited in all public places and enclosed areas within places of employment, including common areas, employee lounges, restrooms, etc. There shall be no discrimination or retaliation against those who report violations of this Act. Ark. Code Ann. § 20-27-1804(b)(2). Moreover, all employers must give its employees notice of the prohibitions upon application for employment. Ark. Code Ann. § 20-27-1804(b)(3).

Break Time to Express Milk

An employer shall provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express milk unless to do so would provide an undue hardship on the operations of the employer, and an employer shall make a reasonable effort to provide a private, secure and sanitary room or other location, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express milk. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-5-116. The room or location provided may include the employee's normal workspace if the space meets the requirements of this section. Id. § 11-5-116(b)(2).

Meal Breaks

The State of Arkansas has no law regulating meal breaks or rest periods. The state only requires paying the employee for time they work during a break.

Minimum Wage, Overtime and Wage Recordkeeping

Beginning, January 1, 2021, the State of Arkansas set minimum wage at not less than $11 per hour. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-210 (a)(3). Employers must still comply with federal wage laws and regulations. The employer can pay tipped employees $2.63 per hour as long as the employee's tips bring the total hourly wage up to the state minimum wage.

For full-time students attending any accredited institution of education and who is employed to work an amount not to exceed 20 hours during weeks that school is in session and 40 hours when school is not in session, the minimum wage shall be equal to but not less than 85 percent of the minimum wage provided in Section 11-4-210.

Provisions governing overtime pay can be found at Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-211. Generally, if an employee works more than 40 hours, he or she must be compensated at a rate of one and one-half times the regular rate of pay at which he or she is employed. This does not apply to agricultural employees.

Every employer subject to any provision of subchapter 4 or of any regulation issued under this subchapter shall make and keep for a period of not less than three years in or about the premises wherein any employee is employed a record of the name, address and occupation of each of his or her employees, the rate of pay, the amount paid each pay period to each employee and such other information as the Director of the Department of Labor shall prescribe by regulation as necessary or appropriate for the enforcement of the provisions of this subchapter or of the regulations under this subchapter. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-217(a).

Final Payments

The State of Arkansas requires an employer to issue a final paycheck within seven days of an involuntarily discharged employee's last day of employment. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-405(2). The State of Arkansas has no law regulating final payments to those employees who voluntarily resign.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance benefits provide income to individuals who have lost work through no fault of their own. The benefits are intended to partially offset the loss of wages while an unemployed worker searches for suitable work or until an employer can recall the employee to work. Nothing is deducted from the employee's wages to pay for this coverage. Unemployment benefits are administered by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Service and additional information regarding the benefits may be accessed at dws.arkansas.gov/

Workers' Compensation

The Arkansas Workers' Compensation Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-101, et seq., applies to every employer in Arkansas with three or more employees, or to those in the construction industry. Employees who suffer injuries and/or occupational diseases arising out of and in the course of their employment may be eligible to receive several types of benefits under the Act. Under the Act, a workplace injury must be immediately reported to the employer; failing to timely report an injury may result in a denial of benefits.

The Act is administered by the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission and additional information regarding the Act may be accessed at www.awcc.state.ar.us/. Finally, unlike some states, Arkansas does not recognize a private cause of action for retaliation under the Act. If an employer discriminates against an employee because he or she has asserted his or her rights under the Act, the employer may have to pay a fine to the Second Injury Trust Fund.

Child Labor

Generally, 14 is the minimum age for employment under Arkansas state law and at 16, a child can be employed for most work unless the work is declared hazardous by the U.S. Department of Labor. There are restrictions for places of work dealing with minors, as well as restrictions on the hours of the day the minor may work. The laws may be found at Arkansas Code Section 11-6-101, et seq.

Gun Laws

Arkansas does not have a specific statute regulating firearms in the workplace. However, Section 5-73-306(18)(A)(i) of the Arkansas Code excepts an individual's right to carry a firearm in "Any place at the discretion of the person or entity exercising control over the physical location of the place by placing at each entrance to the place a written notice clearly readable at a distance of not less than ten feet (10') that 'carrying a handgun is prohibited.'"

Ark. Code Ann. § 5-73-322 allows an employee (staff member) of a public university, public college or public community college to possess a concealed handgun "in the buildings and on the grounds, whether owned or leased by the public university, public college or college community" where he or she is employed unless otherwise prohibited by § 5-73-306 if he or she is a staff member and the governing board of the college does not expressly disallow it. See Ark. Code Ann. § 5-73-322(b).

Additional Laws & Regulations

Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993. The Act, which may be found at Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-107, et seq., mimics Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, in that it prohibits discrimination because of an individual's race, creed, sex, national origin or disability. The Act applies to all employers with nine or more employees for at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

Genetic Information in the Workplace Act. The Act, which may be found at Ark. Code Ann. § 11-5-401, et seq., provides that an employer "shall not seek to obtain or use a genetic test or genetic information" for the purposes of distinguishing between or discriminating against or restricting any right or benefit otherwise due or available to an employee or prospective employee. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-5-403.

Gender Discrimination. Arkansas prohibits discrimination based on sex and provides that employers shall pay employees equal compensation for equal services, and no employee shall discriminate against an employee solely on the basis of that employee's sex. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-601. Relatedly, "no employer shall discriminate in the payment of wages as between sexes or shall pay any female in his or her employ salary or wage rates less than the rates paid to male employees for comparable work." Ark. Code Ann. 11-4-610(a). Nothing prohibits a variation in pay based on a difference in seniority, experience, training, skill, ability, differences in duties and services performed, differences in the shift or time of the day worked or any other reasonable differentiation except difference in sex. Id. § 11-4-610(b).

References. Pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 11-3-204, a current or former employer may disclose the following information about an employee to a prospective employer upon receipt of written consent from the current or former employee: date and duration of employment; current pay rate and wage history; job description and duties; last performance evaluation; attendance information; results of drug test administered within one year prior to the request; threats of violence, harassing actions or threatening behavior related to the workplace or directed at another employee; whether the employee was voluntarily or involuntarily separated from employment and the reasons for separation; and whether the employee is eligible for rehire. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-3-204(a)(1). A school district may disclose this information with or without consent. Id. § 11-2-204(a)(2). The employer disclosing the information is presumed to be acting in good faith. Id. § 11-2-204(a)(3). The consent must be signed and dated, should be separate from the application or if on the application should appear in bold letters and larger typeface, and should otherwise include language similar to "I (applicant), hereby give consent to any and all prior employers of mine to provide information with regard to my employment with prior employers to (prospective employer)." Ark. Code Ann. § 11-3-204(b). The immunity does not apply if the employer discriminated against the employee or violated a federal or state discrimination law.

Medical Examination. It is unlawful to require an employee or applicant, as a condition of employment or continued employment, to submit to or take a physical, medical examination or drug test unless the physical, medical examination or drug test is provided at no cost to the employee or applicant and a copy is provided – free of charge – to the employee or applicant upon a written request of the applicant or employee. Ark. Code Ann. 11-3-203(a)(1).

Medical Marijuana. In November 2016, by constitutional amendment, the State of Arkansas legalized medical marijuana with the Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2016 (MCA). Among other things, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an applicant or employee based on the individual's past or present status as a "qualifying patient" under the MCA. Any claim must be filed within one year of the alleged discrimination. Damages under the MCA have been capped in accordance with the statutory caps in the State's Civil Rights Act. Finally, in addition to other defenses, an employer cannot be held liable for excluding (or removing) an applicant (or employee) from a "safety sensitive position" based on the employer's good faith belief that the applicant or employee was engaged in the current use of medical marijuana. 

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Guide last updated July 2021.

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