Legal advice. We’ve all needed it at one point in our lives, and the complexity of the law often requires a professional to take the reigns.

The wonderful attorneys at Gillespie, Shields, Durrant & Goldfarb in Phoenix addressed some of the common questions they get asked for our readers in this new series of weekly articles.

Gillespie, Shields, Durrant & Goldfarb are proud sponsors of SmartFem  

Chris Houk is an employment law attorney at Gillespie, Shields, Durrant & Goldfarb in Phoenix. He previously worked as assistant attorney general at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in the Civil Rights Division.

When it comes to ethical business practices Houk knows the drill, and one of the best things a small business in Arizona can do is have a proper employee handbook.

“If the employer has tried to prevent discrimination and harassment, there are legal defenses that protect the company,” Houk said. “Without a handbook they’re not as protected.”

Houk explains that if a business can prove it has done everything possible to train their employees on issues like harassment, the likelihood any claim made against the business moving forward is minimal.

Listing a contact for employees with concerns is another great method small businesses can employ to ensure issues are being properly addressed before escalating further.

Just as compliance is an important area for businesses, so are the HR policies they have in place. And one common mistake Houk sees often is HR telling employees not to discuss salary.

Insisting employees not discuss their salaries is in violation of the National Labour Relations Act, Houk said, and any employee handbook that says employees are not to discuss salaries is in violation of the NLRA.

Employees understanding that it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss salaries is an important topic right now, especially with all the high profile cases we’ve seen in the media recently of women coming forward demanding equal pay as their male counterparts.

“The employer needs to take a look at what their pay for females and males is, and make sure that if adjustments are needed they’re made,” Houk said.

Houk also mentioned Arizona is doing a better job than other states in trying to close the wage gap between men and women.

“With the Equal Pay Act it doesn’t matter if you have the intent to discriminate or not. If you are paying people less because of gender, you’re in violation of the law,” Houk said.