I’ve just been fired or suspended or demoted from work, or my boss is harassing me, and I work on the Navajo Nation
On the Navajo Nation the timeline for initiating a grievance against an employer in a dispute may be less than 20 days in some cases, and up to a year in others. It all depends on the Navajo Nation personnel policy manual, the collective bargaining agreement, the Navajo case law that interprets the Navajo Preference in Employment Act (NPEA), and whether or not you are employed by the Navajo Nation. If you are employed by the Navajo Nation you may be required to file a “step grievance” with the Navajo Department of Personnel Management in order to initiate a Navajo hearing with the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals, or OHA, for wrongful termination on the Navajo Nation, or for workplace harassment on the Navajo Nation.
Anyone who is being harassed at the workplace or who was suspended, demoted, or terminated from employment or is a member of Navajo Nation personnel should immediately be in contact with a counselor who is licensed by the bar.
There is a strict process that must be followed by any Navajo Nation employee who has a personnel grievance and wishes to have a Navajo hearing on the situation, which will be overseen by the Office of Hearings and Appeals.
Legal Steps for Navajo Nation Employees
Any applicant for an employee position or any current employee has twenty working days to file a written grievance with the supervisor who initiated the disciplinary action or who was the cause of the alleged violation. The violation must be one listed in the Navajo Preference in Employment Act (NPEA), and a copy must be sent to the Department of Personnel Management. After receipt of the grievance the supervisor then has ten working days to attempt to resolve the problem with the employee or applicant.
Failure by the supervisor to address the grievance in accordance with personnel policies, or a disagreement with the employee or applicant about whether or not the grievance has been resolved to the satisfaction of the employee or applicant must be followed by a written appeal to the Human Resources Director within ten working days of the completion of Step One above. The appeal must include the name and position of the Aggrieved Party, the name and position of the supervisor initiating the action, and a concise statement of all underlying facts, to include the dates, alleged events or conditions that formed the basis of the appeal, and whatever specific harm or distress was allegedly suffered by the Aggrieved Party as a result of the violation. The appeal must also include a statement of the relief sought by the Aggrieved Party.
The Department of Personnel Management has ten working days after the receipt of the appeal to convene an Administrative Meeting with the employee or applicant and the supervisor to attempt to reach a settlement of grievance. Should the Department of Personnel Management not convene the meeting or if the grievance between the parties is not settled in ten working days, then grievance proceeds on to Step Four.
If no Navajo hearing administrative meeting was convened, or should the employee or applicant disagree with the outcome of the Administrative Meeting, the next step is for the employee or applicant to file a written grievance appeal with the Department of Personnel Management. This must be completed within fifteen working days of the conclusion of Step Three and must be sent for immediate transmittal to the Hearing Officer. There is a filing fee of $25.00 which must be sent with this appeal. This is the earliest point that both parties may be represented by a lawyer or legal counsel.
The Navajo Nation personnel grievance hearing will be administrated by a Navajo Nation Hearing Officer, who is a member of the Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals. This arbitration hearing must be held within 30 working days of filing, or at such a time as is agreeable to both parties. The Hearing Officer must complete a written decision within twenty working days of the hearing.
Though the decision of the Hearing Officer is the final administrative decision, the Officer’s decision can still be appealed.
It is best to obtain legal counsel early in the grievance process to assist in writing and formulating Step 2. The allegations and charges made in Step 2 may come to form the basis of any lawsuit or appeal later.
Office of Navajo Labor Relations / Navajo Nation Labor Commission
Employees on the Navajo Nation who work for any of the tribal enterprises such as the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI), the Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprise (NNHE), the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise (NACE), radio stations KTNN/KWRK, the Dine Power Authority (DPA), the Navajo Transit System (NTS), the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company, Inc, (NNOGC), the Navajo Nation Shopping Centers (NNSC), The Navajo Times, Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority (NECA), the Navajo Housing Authority (NHA), the Twin Arrows Casino Resort, the Fire Rock Navajo Casino, the Flowing Water Casino, the Northern Edge Casino, as well as the grant schools or the PL-638 hospitals, programs, or any affiliates thereof may have employee rights that are unique to Navajo Employment laws (NPEA) and will need to consult immediately with an attorney who is experienced with such grievances and is able to advise on plaintiffs’ rights. If you are employed by any of the above mentioned workplaces, or any private entities, i.e., fast food restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, etc., and are being harassed at work or if you have been suspended or terminated wrongly you should seek legal counsel with an attorney who is familiar with the unique personnel policies before you file a charge with the ONLR or a complaint with the Navajo Labor Commission.
Navajo employee laws require that any allegations that are made in a complaint must relate back to the allegations that were made in the charge filed with the ONLR. These steps are precise and not easy to negotiate without the advice and assistance of a Navajo bar licensed counselor or lawyer. It is important that you contact a lawyer or counselor for this purpose early in the employment dispute if you are wrongfully suspended on the Navajo nation or wrongfully demoted on the Navajo nation, or if you suffer workplace harassment.
Because the Navajo Nation is a “just cause” jurisdiction, employees are not able to be terminated at-will without a just cause being cited. Do not risk losing your rights by your ignorance of the law and procedure of the law. If you waive those rights you will lose them. A call to the right counsel or lawyer who understands personnel policies can smooth over this process so that the situation can be handled in a way that is fair and legal for both you and your employer and that protects plaintiffs’ rights. Do not lose your rights. Contact the law office today!