Social and Economic Challenges on American Indian Reservations: Recent Statistical Study

October 24, 2017 Comments Off on Social and Economic Challenges on American Indian Reservations: Recent Statistical Study

Social and economic development on tribal land has always been difficult. The reasons for this are complex and rooted in historical and cultural conflict. But census and other survey data show that Indian tribes have made some gains in recent decades, while still lagging other minorities in the United States.

In 2014, Randall K.Q. Akee and Jonathan B. Taylor published a study entitled, Social and Economic Change on American Indian Reservations: A Databook of the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, 1990-2010. Akee and Taylor concluded that, although American Indians living on reservations have a per capita income that is less than half the U.S. average, tribes have experience an increase in income and in other areas. A brief summary of their findings are:

  • By 2010, most tribes could be considered gaming tribes, and some 92% of Indians lived on reservations with gaming operations.
  • Per capita income and median household income increased in the 1990s, but slowed in the 2000s.
  • Gains in family and child poverty improved in the 1990s, but the improvement slowed in the 2000s.
  • Unemployment among Indians on tribal land fell in the 1990s and fell only slightly more in the 2000s, while labor force participation remained about the same from 1990 to 2010.
  • Housing improved on most Indian reservations, but remain worse than housing in the U.S. overall.
  • The number of Indians on tribal land with high school and college degrees has increased since 1990, but is not at parity with the U.S. average.

A summary of the Databook is available here. The full Databook is available here.

The improvement in these statistical measurements may well have been fostered by the policy of self-determination and the development of Indian gaming, but additional gains are necessary to improve social and economic conditions for Indians living on tribal land to a level on par with the U.S. average.

If you have any questions about federal Indian law, tribal law, or general business or employment law, please contact me at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC by using the contact information provided below.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC. He is licensed as an attorney in Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi tribal courts. For information on the legal services offered by Mr. Griffith, please call (928) 779-6951 or toll free at (800) 514-6064 or through the “Contact Us” page at the website for Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden.

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EMPLOYER COMPLIANCE WITH THE NAVAJO PREFERENCE IN EMPLOYMENT ACT: Part 3: The Complaint Process and Litigation under the NPEA

May 5, 2017 Comments Off on EMPLOYER COMPLIANCE WITH THE NAVAJO PREFERENCE IN EMPLOYMENT ACT: Part 3: The Complaint Process and Litigation under the NPEA

The purpose of the Navajo Preference in Employment Act (“NPEA”) is to promote economic development and jobs for Navajos on tribal land. Most employers on the Navajo Nation follow the requirements of the NPEA carefully, but compliance with the NPEA can involve considerable time and effort. This post is the third of three overviews of key aspects of the NPEA, and it focuses on complaints filed with the Office of Navajo Labor Relations and litigation before the Navajo Nation Labor Commission. Part 1 discussed the hiring process under the NPEA, and Part 2 discussed adverse action, just cause, and prejudice, intimidation, and harassment in the workplace.

These overviews provide only a brief introduction to some of the key rules that employers on the Navajo Nation must comply with under the NPEA. Some employers on the Navajo Nation may also need to comply with federal employment laws in addition to the NPEA. If you have questions about specific issues or a specific employment situation, we recommend that you seek legal advice.

THE COMPLAINT PROCESS AND LITIGATION UNDER THE NPEA

The NPEA follows a two-step process for resolving employment-related disputes and establishes two different governmental agencies—one for each step in the process. The Office of Navajo Labor Relations (“ONLR”) is responsible for processing “charges” filed by employees against employers. The Navajo Nation Labor Commission (“Labor Commission”) is responsible for processing disputes that were not resolved by ONLR, but its procedure is more like formal litigation in a court. Overall, this process for dispute resolution requires the employee and the employer to meet certain deadlines, and if the employee or employer do not meet the deadlines, a claim or a defense can be lost. The starting point for these deadlines is the event or situation that the employee believes violated the NPEA or affects his or her employment status.

ONLR and Employee Charges

When an event occurs that relates to an employment relationship or a workplace, and an employee believes that the event negatively affects his or her employment, the employee has one year from the date of the event to file a charge with ONLR. If the situation involves a series of events, the employee has one year from the last event to file a charge with ONLR. The employee is not required to complete the employer’s grievance process before filing with ONLR.

The employee’s charge must raise all issues or potential NPEA violations that the employee can claim within the one-year period. An employee can amend his or her charge to add new issues or potential violations if asserted within the one-year period, but if not raised at the ONLR stage within the one-year period, the employee may not assert them at all.

Once the employee has filed a charge, ONLR must give written notification to the employer and has six months to investigate the charge. ONLR is authorized to assist the employee and employer in resolving the dispute. Typically, however, ONLR investigates the charge, and the employer or an attorney acting for the employer responds to a request from ONLR for information and documents.

If the case cannot be resolved, ONLR’s investigation will result in one of four possible outcomes, but regardless of the outcome, the employee then gets the right to file a complaint with the Labor Commission. The possible outcomes include: (a) dismissal of the charge without issuance of a right-to-sue letter; (b) issuance of a probable cause notice and a right-to-sue letter; (c) issuance of a right-to-sue letter, but based only on ONLR’s inability to complete the investigation within six months; or (d) ONLR does nothing and a right-to-sue letter is issued.

Again, no matter which of the four outcomes occurs, the employee then has the right to file a complaint with the Labor Commission—even if no right-to-sue letter is issued. ONLR’s dismissal without a right-to-sue letter is not common, but may indicate that the employee’s case is weak.

The Labor Commission and Hearings on Alleged Violations of the NPEA

After the ONLR process is completed, the employee may file a complaint with the Labor Commission. The complaint must be filed within 360 days after the date the employee’s charge was filed with ONLR. The 360-day period does not run from the date a right-to-sue letter is issued or the date the process at ONLR is completed, but instead starts on the day the ONLR charge is filed. The 360-day period can be extended by the Labor Commission if the employee can show unusual circumstances that delayed his or her filing with the Labor Commission.

The Labor Commission has sixty days from the date the complaint is filed to issue a notice of hearing. The hearing does not need to take place within sixty days, but the notice setting the date and time for the hearing must be issued within sixty days. The notice of hearing and a copy of the complaint are then sent to the employer by certified mail.

The employer must file an answer within twenty days of receipt of the complaint and, in certain limited situations, may file a motion to dismiss. We recommend that an employer hire an attorney or advocate who is admitted to practice law in the Navajo Nation to represent him or her when responding to a complaint. Under Navajo case law, the employer must hire an attorney or advocate admitted in the Navajo Nation if the employer is a business entity.

Pre-hearing activities, such as depositions, are permitted but discouraged by the Labor Commission. In other words, the Labor Commission prefers that the employee and employer move ahead with the hearing rather than time-consuming depositions and other fact investigations. About two weeks before the hearing, the parties must file copies of any documents they intend to use at the hearing and a list of witnesses they intend to call at the hearing.

The hearing itself is a formal meeting of the Labor Commission. At least three commissioners must be present for a quorum, and those commissioners will listen to the case presented by each party and decide the case. Even if represented by an attorney or advocate, both the employee and the employer (or an authorized employee of the employer) must attend the hearing in person. If either the employee or employer do not attend the hearing, the Labor Commission will rule in against of the side that did not attend.

On the day of the hearing, the commissioners often ask the parties to discuss settlement. If a settlement is reached, the parties return to the hearing room and inform the commissioners of the terms of the settlement. The commissioners may refuse to accept the settlement if they do not consider the terms reasonable. If a settlement is not reached, the hearing goes forward and follows a format that is similar to a court case.

In the hearing, each side has an opportunity to take testimony from witnesses, present evidence, and cross-examine the other side’s witnesses. The burden of proof is shared equally by the employee and the employer. The employee must prove a violation of the NPEA by a “preponderance,” which means it must be “more likely than not” that the employer violated the NPEA. But the employer then has the burden of proof to present evidence that overcomes the employee’s evidence.

After each side has presented its case, the commissioners will consider all of the evidence presented and decide whether the employer is liable for a violation of the NPEA. This decision, however, relates only to whether the employer has violated the NPEA and does not determine the “remedy” or dollar amount that the employer must pay to the employee. Instead, the Labor Commission will set another hearing to consider the remedy or amount that will appropriately compensate the employee.

Once it has determined the remedy or dollar amount that should be paid, the Labor Commission will enter a judgment. A party may appeal the judgment to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court within ten days of receipt, but if it is not appealed, the judgment becomes final. If a final judgment against an employer is not paid or “satisfied,” the employee may file a case in the Navajo Nation District Court to collect the amount due.

CONCLUSION

Complying with the NPEA can take a great deal of time and effort, but the risk of financial liability can be reduced by focusing on the employer’s key legal obligations. This third of three articles provides only a brief overview of the complaint and litigation process under the NPEA, and employers can still face difficult situations and may need assistance sorting through facts, policies, legal obligations. I and other attorneys at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden have the knowledge and expertise to advise employers in those situations.

If you have any questions about this overview, or need assistance with an employment matter under the NPEA, please contact me at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC by using the contact information provided below. I can also be available to give presentations on the NPEA.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC. He is licensed as an attorney in Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi tribal courts. For information on the legal services offered by Mr. Griffith, please call (928) 779-6951 or toll free at (800) 514-6064 or through the “Contact Us” page at the website for Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden.

EMPLOYER COMPLIANCE WITH THE NAVAJO PREFERENCE IN EMPLOYMENT ACT: Part II: Adverse Action, Just Cause, and Prejudice, Intimidation, and Harassment

April 6, 2017 Comments Off on EMPLOYER COMPLIANCE WITH THE NAVAJO PREFERENCE IN EMPLOYMENT ACT: Part II: Adverse Action, Just Cause, and Prejudice, Intimidation, and Harassment

The purpose of the Navajo Preference in Employment Act (“NPEA”) is to promote economic development and jobs for Navajos on tribal land. Most employers on the Navajo Nation follow the requirements of the NPEA carefully, but compliance with the NPEA can involve considerable time and effort. This post is the second of three overviews of key aspects of the NPEA, and it focuses on adverse actions, just cause, and prejudice, intimidation, and harassment issues. Part 1 discussed the hiring process under the NPEA, and Part 3 will discuss the process for resolving disputes between employees and employers.

These overviews provide only a brief introduction to some of the key rules that employers on the Navajo Nation must comply with under the NPEA. Some employers on the Navajo Nation may also need to comply with federal employment laws in addition to the NPEA. If you have questions about specific issues or a specific employment situation, we recommend that you seek legal advice.

ADVERSE ACTION AND JUST CAUSE UNDER THE NPEA

A basic requirement of the NPEA is a rule that prevents employers from taking any adverse action against an employee unless the employer has just cause. This general rule is often summed up in the catch phrase, “No adverse action without just cause.” This rule usually applies in situations where discipline or termination is involved, but it can apply to any adverse action against an employee.

This requirement of the NPEA is very different from state law. Under Arizona law, most employment arrangements are considered “at-will employment,” and both the employee and the employer may terminate the employment at any time. It is generally thought that the NPEA prohibits at-will employment since ending the employment arrangement without just cause would be an adverse action.

So, what exactly are “adverse action” and “just cause”?

What is “adverse action”?

Under Navajo case law, the term “action” refers to almost any act by an employer that relates to the employment relationship with an employee. An employment action is “adverse” if the result of the action has some tangible, negative effect on the employee’s employment. For example, an action is likely adverse if an employer puts an employee on an improvement plan since a failure to improve work performance could result in termination.

What is “just cause”?

The term “just cause” is not defined in the NPEA, and the case law discussing the term considers just cause to be a broad concept that must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But the Navajo Nation Supreme Court has stated that just cause must be substantial and cannot be based on small or minor problems. For example, an employer will not have just cause for an adverse action if the action is based on an employee’s minor neglect of duty, an excused absence, a minor false statement, or mere rudeness.

Here are some tips for complying with the adverse action/just cause requirements:

Tip #1: Use and Follow Written Employment Policies and Procedures.

Just cause for an adverse action can be easier to support if the employer relies on written policies and procedures and a written job description. Under Navajo law, an employee manual creates obligations or rules that both the employer and the employee are expected to follow. Employers must recognize that employees have a reasonable expectation that employers will follow their own written policies and procedures. By closely following written policies and procedures, an employer has a better chance of showing just cause when an employee does not follow policy.

Tip #2: Always Notify the Employee in Writing when Just Cause is Substantial and Include a Clear Statement of the Facts.

The NPEA requires that employees be notified in writing when just cause exists for adverse action. Although a verbal warning may be appropriate for minor problems, an employer must provide written notification when an employee’s work performance is below expectations or an employee’s conduct is a significant violation of policy. In addition, the written notice must include specific facts that are the basis for the adverse action. The facts must be reasonably clear and specific because the facts will be relied upon to show how just cause exists by comparing the facts to the employer’s written policies and/or the job description.

Tip #3: Improvement Plans and Progressive Discipline May Help Minimize Claims.

Many employers on the Navajo Nation use progressive discipline and improvement plans, which can be helpful in minimizing employee claims under the NPEA. Progressive discipline and improvement plans involve an approach that gives an employee a second chance while also protecting the employer since everything about the adverse action is documented. If the employee again violates the employer’s policies or continues work performance that is below expectations, then the employer can take additional steps to help an employee meet expectations under the employer’s policies. If termination becomes necessary after a second or third chance, the written notifications (and following all policies and procedures) can be used as evidence that the employer made a strong effort work with the employee, but the employee did not adjust to required standards of conduct and/or meet work performance expectations.

Tip #4: “Term” Contracts Do Not Violate the NPEA.

Under the NPEA, a “term” contract may be used to create an employment arrangement. A “term” contract is a contract that is effective only for a specific time period (the “term” of the contract). Under a term contract, the contract ends when the term has been completed, and there is no contractual obligation to renew or continue the arrangement after the contract has ended. If an employment contract simply ends because the contract was written that way, and if the employer does nothing to extend the contract or replace it with another, then the employer has not taken any adverse action. Thus, an employer can use a term contract, let the contract expire at the end of the term, and the employment arrangement will end, but the employer remains in compliance with the NPEA. Even so, an employer cannot use a term contract if, at the time the contract was entered, it was structured to avoid compliance with the NPEA.

PREJUDICE, INTIMIDATION, AND HARASSMENT UNDER THE NPEA

The NPEA also places an obligation on employers to prevent prejudice, intimidation, and harassment against employees. This obligation covers employer-initiated situations as well as employee-on-employee prejudice, intimidation, and harassment. Although sexual harassment was not originally covered, the NPEA was amended in the spring of 2016 to include sexual harassment as a prohibited form of harassment. Employees often make claims of prejudice, intimidation, and harassment, especially when they believe the employer is not following its own policies or others in the workplace are being treated differently.

CONCLUSION

Complying with the NPEA can take a great deal of time and effort, especially in the areas of hiring and discipline, but the risk of financial liability can be reduced by focusing on the employer’s key legal obligations. This second of three articles provides only a brief overview of common claims that an employee can make against an employer, and employers can still face difficult situations and may need assistance sorting through facts, policies, legal obligations. I and other attorneys at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden have the knowledge and expertise to advise employers in those situations.

If you have any questions about this overview, or need assistance with an employment matter under the NPEA, please contact me at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden by using the contact information provided below. I can also be available to give presentations on the NPEA.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC. He is licensed as an attorney in Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi tribal courts. For information on the legal services offered by Mr. Griffith, please call (928) 779-6951 or toll free at (800) 514-6064 or through the “Contact Us” page at the website for Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden.

EMPLOYER COMPLIANCE WITH THE NAVAJO PREFERENCE IN EMPLOYMENT ACT: Part 1: Navajo Preference in Hiring

February 18, 2017 Comments Off on EMPLOYER COMPLIANCE WITH THE NAVAJO PREFERENCE IN EMPLOYMENT ACT: Part 1: Navajo Preference in Hiring

Employers on the Navajo Nation spend a great deal of time and effort on complying with the Navajo Preference in Employment Act (“NPEA”). The NPEA is an employment-preference law that promotes economic development and jobs for Navajos on tribal land. This overview is the first of three introductory articles on key aspects of the NPEA. The next article will address adverse actions, just cause, and prejudice, intimidation, and harassment issues. The third article will discuss the process for resolving disputes between employees and employers.

These overviews provide only a brief introduction to some of the key rules that employers on the Navajo Nation must comply with under the NPEA. Some employers on the Navajo Nation may also need to comply with federal employment laws in addition to the NPEA. If you have questions about specific issues or a specific employment situation, we recommend that you seek legal advice.

THE HIRING PREFERENCE RULES UNDER THE NPEA

Every employer hires employees and makes employment-related decisions, but the NPEA has some very specific hiring procedures that must be followed. For example, the NPEA has rules that cover advertising, job announcements, and most importantly, the hiring process. The hiring-process rules are important because they require employers to hire the most-qualified applicant after sorting all applicants into three prioritized pools.

Tip #1: Prepare and File an Affirmative Action Plan.

To begin, an employer on the Navajo Nation must have a Navajo affirmative action plan on file with the Office of Navajo Labor Relations (“ONLR”). The NPEA specifically requires the preparation and filing of an affirmative action plan. The plan must establish the employer’s approach to affirmative action in employment that is specific to Navajos. In addition, the plan must include “timetables for all phases of employment to achieve the tribal goals of employing Navajos in all job classifications including supervisory and management positions.” ONLR has specific regulations describing the details that must be covered in the affirmative action plan. A copy of those regulations is available here.

Tip #2: In Job Announcements, State that Preference is Given to Qualified Applicants in Accordance with the Navajo Preference in Employment Act.

Every employer needs to find employees, and to find those employees, the employer typically needs to prepare a job announcement. Under the NPEA, job announcements must state that an employment preference is given to Navajos under the NPEA. For example, the job announcement might say: “[Employer name] gives preference to eligible and qualified applicants pursuant to the Navajo Preference in Employment Act.” Of course, this statement would be in addition to other statements that may be necessary or permitted, such as a preference for veterans.

Tip #3: Advertise Job Openings on Radio Stations and in Newspapers that Will Reach Navajo Job Seekers.

Once the job announcement is written, the employer needs to distribute the announcement where potential job seekers will see or hear about it. Under the NPEA, employers must advertise job openings on radio stations and in newspapers that will reach Navajo job seekers. Employers are not limited to media that will reach Navajo job seekers, but must include radio and newspapers that will reach Navajo job seekers.

Tip #4: After All Applications Have Been Received, Identify the Qualified Applicants.

Once all applications for the job have been received, an employer must first review the applications and screen out any applicants who do not meet the minimum qualifications for the job. The remaining applicants—those who meet the minimum qualifications—may be interviewed and ranked according to their qualifications. To determine how well qualified each candidate is, the employer may use interviewing, credential checking, reference checking, and other hiring techniques. Employers have at least some flexibility in this area as long as the process does not discriminate based on status as a Navajo.

Tip #5: Sort the Applicants into Three Preference Categories:  (1) Navajo Applicants; (2) Non-Navajo Indians and Spouses of Navajos; and (3) All Other Applicants.

Then, hire the most-qualified Navajo, non-Navajo Indian or Spouse of a Navajo, or Other Applicant in that Order of Preference.

After ranking the candidates through interviewing and qualifications, the applicants must be sorted into the following categories, which are listed in order of preference: (1) Navajo applicants; (2) non-Navajo Indians and spouses of Navajos; and (3) all other applicants. The basic rule under the NPEA is that the most-qualified Navajo must be hired, since this category has the highest level of preference. If there are no qualified Navajo applicants, then the employer must hire the most-qualified non-Navajo Indian or spouse of a Navajo. If there are no qualified applicants in this second preference category, then the employer may hire the most qualified of the remaining applicants.

This process for sorting applicants into three prioritized pools and hiring the most-qualified applicant starting with the first pool is a basic requirement of the NPEA. All employers on the Navajo Nation must follow this process although some employers with federal contracts may be required to substitute an Indian preference for the Navajo preference.

CONCLUSION

Complying with the NPEA can take a great deal of time and effort, especially in the areas of hiring and discipline, but the risk of financial liability can be reduced by focusing on the employer’s key legal obligations. This brief article is the first of three articles on some of the basic rules of the NPEA. The hiring process rules discussed in this first article provide a basic introduction, but employers can still face difficult situations and may need assistance sorting through facts, policies, legal obligations. I and other attorneys at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden have the knowledge and expertise to advise employers in those situations.

If you have any questions about this overview, or need assistance with an employment matter under the NPEA, please contact me at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden by using the contact information provided below. I can also be available to give presentations on the NPEA.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC. He is licensed as an attorney in Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi tribal courts. For more information on the legal services offered by Mr. Griffith, please call (928) 779-6951 or toll free at (800) 514-6064 or through the “Contact Us” page at the website for Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden.

Recent Amendment to the Navajo Preference in Employment Act

April 24, 2016 Comments Off on Recent Amendment to the Navajo Preference in Employment Act

The Navajo Nation recently amended its Navajo Preference in Employment Act (the “NPEA”) to cover sexual harassment claims and to slightly shift the burden of proof in all cases. These amendments to the NPEA were passed by the Tribal Council on March 23, 2016 and signed into law by President Begaye on April 6, 2016.[1]

Amendment to Cover Sexual Harassment Claims.

Prior to this amendment, employers doing business on the Navajo Nation were required to provide a work environment free of prejudice, intimidation, and harassment, but the NPEA had been interpreted to exclude employee-to-employee sexual harassment claims.[2] Under the amendment, however, the statute clearly states that an employer’s obligation to provide a work environment free of harassment includes an obligation to provide an environment that is free of sexual harassment.[3]

The amendment also states that, in all claims involving prejudice, intimidation, or harassment, the burden is on the employee to show a violation of the NPEA by a preponderance of the evidence.[4] In other words, the employee must show that it is more likely than not that prejudice, intimidation, or harassment occurred.

Burden of Proof in All Other Claims.

The NPEA has also been changed to state that, when a case goes to a hearing, the burden of proof will be on the employee to show a violation by a preponderance of the evidence.[5] Although the employee must carry this burden of proof at the hearing, the Tribal Council also stated that this change was intended to make the employee and employer share the burden equally.[6]

The effect of this change is not entirely clear, but it seems intended to put more pressure on employees at the hearing stage, while maintaining considerable pressure on employers before the hearing. In other words, employers still carry the burden to show that they have not violated the NPEA before an employment claim has reached a hearing at the Navajo Nation Labor Commission. As such, employers still carry the burden of proof when an employee charge has been filed with the Office of Navajo Labor Relations, and when a complaint has been filed with the Navajo Nation Labor Commission, but before the hearing takes place. Apparently, the employee carries the burden of proof only if the hearing occurs.

Conclusion.

The full effect of these amendments is not entirely clear, and they may not change much about the day-to-day relationship between employees and employers. Nonetheless, the changes are apparently intended to make clear that, at the hearing, employees must be prepared to back up their claims with evidence.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney with Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC. He is licensed as an attorney in Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi tribal courts.  For more information on the legal services offered by Mr. Griffith , please call (928) 779-6951 or toll free at (800) 514-6064 or use the “Contact Us” page.

Endnotes

[1] Navajo Nation Tribal Resolution CMA-13-16.

[2] 15 N.N.C. § 604(B)(9); Yazzie v. Navajo Sanitation, No. SC-CV-16-06, 2007 Navajo Sup. LEXIS 4 (Jul. 11, 2007). Title 15 of the Navajo Nation Code is available at this link, followed by a word search for “Title 15.”

[3] Navajo Nation Tribal Resolution CMA-13-16 (see Section Two on Amendments to Title 15 of the Navajo Nation Code).

[4] Id. (see Section Two on Amendments to Title 15 of the Navajo Nation Code).

[5] Id. (see Section Two on Amendments to Title 15 of the Navajo Nation Code).

[6] Id. at Section I(H).

Employers and Drug-Testing Policies under Arizona Law

February 7, 2016 Comments Off on Employers and Drug-Testing Policies under Arizona Law

Under Arizona law, an employer may adopt and implement a policy for drug and alcohol testing of employees and job applicants. These employer policies may require drug and alcohol testing for any job-related purpose (for example, after a workplace accident) and may require random drug and alcohol testing if applied equally to all employees, officers, and supervisors.

To assist employers, this post answers some basic questions on employer drug-testing policies, the risks of liability from employee lawsuits, and the impact of Arizona’s medical marijuana law. (For purposes of this post, the term “drug testing” includes testing for alcohol consumption.)

What Must be Included in an Employer’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy under Arizona Law?

In Arizona, an employer’s drug-testing policy must include the following:

  • The employer’s policy on drug and alcohol use by employees.
  • Which employees and prospective employees are subject to testing.
  • The circumstances under which drug testing may be required.
  • The substances for which testing may be required.
  • The testing methods and collection procedures that the employer may use.
  • The consequences for refusing to participate in drug testing.
  • Any negative personnel action that the employer may take based on the testing procedure or results.
  • The right of an employee, on request, to obtain the written test results.
  • The right of an employee to explain, in a confidential setting, a positive test result.
  • The employer’s policy regarding the confidentiality of the test results.

When Can an Employer Require Drug Testing of Employees?

In general, an employer may require the collection of samples and drug or alcohol testing for any job-related purpose. Common examples include:

  • Investigation of an employee for possible impairment (on the job).
  • Investigation of a workplace accident (if the test is administered as soon as possible after the accident and given to employees who reasonably may have been involved).
  • Maintenance of safety for employees, customers, clients, and the general public.
  • Maintenance of productivity, quality products and services, and security of property or information.
  • Reasonable suspicion that an employee is using drugs and the use is negatively affecting performance or the work environment.

Are There Any Limitations on an Employer’s Legal Right to Adopt and Implement a Drug-Testing Policy?

Yes. The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that an employer’s drug-testing policy cannot be justified solely on a generalized and unsubstantiated interest in preventing drug and alcohol use by its employees. In other words, an employer’s drug testing will be unconstitutional if the testing is both random and without suspicion, or if the testing is not relate to a legitimate job-related function.

Is an Employer Required to Keep an Employee’s Test Results Confidential?

Yes. In general, all communications and test results related to a drug or alcohol test must be kept confidential and may only be disclosed as permitted by law or in an employment-related grievance or lawsuit. But the employer must provide a copies to the employee on request and may provide test results and related information to a person hired to evaluate the test results or an employee’s explanation.

What Employment-Related Action Can an Employer Take under a Drug-Testing Policy?

An employer may take actions based on a positive drug test that can negatively affect employment or hiring. In the case of a job applicant, an employer may refuse to hire the applicant, but only as the result of a positive drug test (does not apply to positive alcohol tests).

In the case of either an employee or a job applicant, the employer may impose discipline or require participation in rehabilitation services after a positive drug test or refusal to consent to a drug test (although the possible discipline or rehabilitation options must be stated in the drug-testing policy). Common examples of discipline include suspension with or without pay and termination, and rehabilitation typically requires counseling.

As the Employer, What is the Risk of Liability from Employee Lawsuits Related to Drug Testing?

Under Arizona law, an employer can be sued based on the employer’s disciplinary action or rehabilitation requirements if the employee can show two things. First, the employee must show that the employer’s discipline or rehabilitation was imposed based on a false positive. Second, the employee must show that the employer knew or should have known of the false positive and recklessly, maliciously, or willfully disregarded the false positive. From the employer’s perspective, this means that an employer will not be liable merely because the employer imposed discipline or rehabilitation based on a false positive.

Does Arizona Law Provide Employers with Any Protection from Lawsuits?

Yes. Although not immune from all lawsuits, an employer is protected from certain lawsuits (including some by third parties) if the employer has implemented a drug-testing policy. A lawsuit cannot be maintained if (a) the employer followed its drug-testing policy, and (b) the employer:

  • Acted in good faith based on a positive drug or alcohol test.
  • Did not test for drugs or alcohol or for a specific drug or controlled substance.
  • Did not test for or detect a drug, medical condition, or mental or psychological disorder.
  • Terminated or suspended a drug-prevention or drug-testing program or policy.
  • Acted on a good-faith belief that an employee used or possessed any drug in the workplace or during work hours.
  • Acted on a good-faith belief that an employee was impaired while in the workplace or during work hours.
  • Prevented an employee from performing safety-sensitive work based on a good-faith belief that the employee was using any drug (including prescription drugs) if the drug could impair the employee’s performance.

Does Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act Impact an Employer’s Drug-Testing Policy and Legal Rights?

Yes. In general, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (“AMMA”) places certain limits on the actions an employer can take against an employee who holds a valid medical marijuana card.

Under the AMMA, an employer cannot discriminate in hiring, firing, or any condition of employment (including drug testing) based on a person’s status as a holder of a valid medical marijuana card. The AMMA prohibits an employer from imposing discipline or rehabilitation if the employee has a valid medical marijuana card and tests positive for marijuana—unless the employee used, possessed, or was impaired by marijuana at work or during work hours.

In addition, an employer cannot require drug testing of an employee, and cannot search an employee or his or her property based solely on the employee’s status as a holder of a medical marijuana card or possession of an application for a medical marijuana card.

The impact of the AMMA on an employer’s actions under a drug-testing policy can vary depending on the facts of the situation. An employer should consult with an attorney if a specific situation arises involving employee drug testing and an employee with a medical marijuana card.

Are There Any Other Considerations that May Affect an Employer’s Drug-Testing Policy and Employment-Related Actions?

Yes. Some employers may have an obligation to report a positive drug test under laws that govern an employee’s professional or business license.

A teacher, for example, must be “certificated” (licensed) under state education law. The statutes also require school superintendents to report a reasonable suspicion of teacher drug use at any time and a reasonable suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol on school grounds or during a school event.

As another example, individuals who hold a commercial driver’s license, including school bus drivers, are subject to state and federal laws that require drug and alcohol testing. An employer that employs drivers and transportation-related workers must comply with those laws and may be obligated to report positive drug tests to state and federal licensing authorities.

Conclusion.

Overall, the laws related to the testing of employees for drug and alcohol use are complex and range from general laws applicable to all employers to detailed regulations that affect employers of individuals licensed under state or federal law. The answers given above provide only a general overview of the employee drug-testing laws in Arizona. If you are an employer, and you have specific questions or would like to adopt a drug-testing policy, the best approach is to contact an employment-law attorney.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney with Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC. He is licensed as an attorney in Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi tribal courts.

The Power of Cultural Teachings for Native American At-Risk Youth

January 24, 2016 Comments Off on The Power of Cultural Teachings for Native American At-Risk Youth

The White Earth Nation is taking a “no more” stand against substance abuse by using Anishinaabe culture as the basis for an integrated rehabilitation program for youth in the juvenile justice system. The White Earth Tribal Council commissioned a video to show that the program has been very effective in turning around the lives of at-risk youth in the White Earth Nation. As the introduction states:

Impacts of drug abuse are being felt in our homes, schools, workplaces, and in our daily lives. The devastation from this drug abuse is fragmenting our families, contributes to the neglect of our children and threatens to destroy our communities. Our culture is a guide and a source of security in good times and in bad. Many of our teachings handed down from our elders are in danger of being lost, but through our cultural teachings we as people gain strength and understanding. Watch how a determined effort by the White Earth Nation is making a positive change in our community and a difference in the lives of at risk youth.

The White Earth Nation’s reservation is in present-day Minnesota, and the tribe is culturally Anishinaabe—also known as Ojibwe or Chippewa. The Anishinaabeg (plural) describes the tribes aboriginal to the Great Lakes area and speaking an Algonquin dialect.

Please note that Minnesota is a Public Law 280 state, which means that the state has criminal and civil jurisdiction over most tribal lands. The video includes interviews with state-court judges, prosecutors, and public defenders because the state has jurisdiction over juvenile justice matters on the White Earth Naton’s reservation, even if the White Earth Nation has its own tribal police.

Although it focuses on a culturally based program within the juvenile justice system, the video also emphasizes the role of schools in educating the tribe’s youth in Anishinaabe culture in developing values and a way of life based on respect and self-esteem.

Link to video here.

James D. Griffith is an Associate Attorney with Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, PLLC. He is licensed as an attorney in Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi tribal courts.