SmartFem consulted with the wonderful attorneys at Gillespie, Shields, Durrant & Goldfarb in Phoenix to answer some common legal questions in a new series of articles.
In this article, employment law attorney Chris Houk concludes our discussion on employee rights in Arizona in the second half of a two-part article.
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.
Most Arizonans are aware that Arizona is a right-to-work state, meaning an employer can fire an employee without cause. However, there are certain limitations all employees should be aware of when working in a right-to-work state.
“I run through all the statutes and ask do they think they were fired because of age, disability, gender, race, or as a whistleblower? If they say ‘No’ to all that then I don’t see an action here,” Houk said. “You can’t be fired in violation of a statute.”
Noncompete agreements are common, but how much do employees really know about the contract they are signing? Houk explains noncompete agreements in Arizona are enforceable as long as they’re reasonable in scope and duration.
However, an attorney can argue to nullify an agreement if it’s found to be keeping someone from obtaining a new job and earning an income.
“One thing they look at is whether the company where the employee worked had sufficient time to put in a new sales person so that the company doesn’t loose business,” Houk said. “The law doesn’t want to unfairly tamper with a person finding new work.”
And that includes executive severance packages. When it comes to an executive leaving a company to either retire or move on to a new place of business, ensuring the terms of the severance package are fair is important.
“Controlling the narrative to protect the executive is really key,” Houk said. That not only includes pay, but what narratives can and can’t be spoken by both parties. “One thing to do is limit them to defamation of slander.”
Just as there are actions a former employee can take when the working relationship between employer and employee dissolves, there are actions current employees can take if they feel as though they are being discriminated against in the workplace.
And Houk is no stranger to working cases with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he spent over six years as a trial attorney.
Houk explains he’s seen employees fearful to file a claim with the EEOC for a reason that’s more common than one might think.
“Retaliation is the largest type of case the EEOC has right now,” Houk said. “If someone is being told they are doing something unlawful, they naturally want to strike back.”
But that’s not to say an employee should not file when there is unlawful activity taking place for fear of retaliation.
“What we say to employees who are being sexually harassed and afraid of retaliation is if you are retaliated against then you file a new charge with the EEOC.”
Currently, one of the EEOC’s main priority is to focus on retaliation cases, and continuing to build confidence in those who feel their rights have been violated.