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Oregon’s working population makes up a significant portion of the state, with an employment-to-population ratio of 61.1% in 2022, an increase from the year before. The state also has a similarly high labor force participation rate, which means that enforcing Oregon employment and labor laws is increasingly important to help maintain this upward trend and boost the state’s economy.

If you are an Oregon-based employee, you can best protect yourself from different forms of discrimination and exploitation by being aware of the law. 

Understanding how employment laws are enforced allows you to navigate the job economy more freely and find employment opportunities that are right for you. 

This article outlines the basic employment and labor laws in Oregon, as well as provides additional resources to support employees and help them fight for their rights. 

Basic Oregon Employment and Labor Laws

The Beaver State has instituted several laws regarding employment and labor to protect its employees and ensure fair treatment. Here are the ones you must remember:

Mandatory Breaks in Oregon

Breaks are crucial to avoid exhaustion for the employee. They also give workers time to do essential things such as eating meals or pumping milk for children. Thus, Oregon mandates break time for employees. 

Specifically, employees who work eight-hour shifts are entitled to around 50 minutes of break time, which consists of two 10-minute paid rest breaks and one 30-minute unpaid meal break. 

Lactating mothers with kids below 18 months old also get additional break time for expressing milk. Companies may offer more breaks than the mandatory, but that is their prerogative.

Workers who work more or less than eight hours (except those who work two hours or less) are also entitled to rest and meal breaks. However, they vary depending on the number of hours. 

For instance, those who work 14 hours get three 10-minute rest breaks and two 30-minute meal breaks. Meanwhile, employees who serve five hours get only one 10-minute rest break, with no meal break. 

Besides rest and meal breaks, heat illness breaks are provided to workers exposed to excessive heat. However, companies may schedule them so that they coincide with rest or meal breaks. 

Oregon Discrimination and Equal Pay Laws

Laws surrounding discrimination and equal pay ensure that employees — regardless of their race, age, and other backgrounds or qualities — are treated fairly. These laws are of federal and state origins. 

For example, the federal equal pay law states that employees who do the same or equal work must receive the same pay, regardless of gender. There is also an Oregon equal pay law that extends the insurance of equal pay so that all protected classes, such as minorities, the elderly, and others, are paid the same as other workers doing the same task. Thus, if an Oregon worker is paid less because of their age, race, religion, or some other discriminatory reason, they may be reported and have a case filed against them. 

The same law prevents employers from cutting a person’s salary just to make sure everyone gets equal pay. It also prohibits businesses from asking an applicant about their past wages. It likewise ensures that if a new hire is being paid more, old employees can demand an increase if they do the same work. 

On the other hand, discrimination laws protect workers from the hiring to the firing stage. That is, they make it illegal for employers to reject an applicant, treat an employee differently, or fire a worker for discriminatory actions involving:

  • Race.

  • Nationality/Origin. 

  • Sex.

  • Gender.

  • Sexual orientation.

  • Age. 

  • Religion. 

  • Disability.

  • Marital or family status. 

  • Retaliation. 

  • Military status. 

  • Discussing wages. 

An example of the discrimination laws at play is the case of two University of Oregon professors who filed an age discrimination case. 

Their employment was not terminated, but they were forced to relocate to another campus. As such, they asserted that the dean’s decision was based on their age, which is one of the protected classes. The two educators won their case and were awarded $170,000.

Another unique law one must take note of regarding discrimination is Portland’s “Ban the Box” law. It makes it illegal for employers to ask about criminal histories before a conditional offer is given.  

If an employer discriminates against an applicant or their employee, they may be reported. A lawsuit may also be filed against them. 

Workplace Safety, Sexual Harassment, and Other Protective Laws

Oregon employees are not just protected from discrimination. Some laws and institutions safeguard them against workplace dangers, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. 

For instance, the Oregon OSHA ensures that workplaces in the state are safe for employees. They do so by receiving and addressing workplace safety complaints, conducting inspections, providing training, and other such measures. 

Employees and unions also play an important role in promoting workplace safety. Unions usually get together to conduct activities about workplace safety or negotiate with administrations and businesses for better workplace conditions. 

Meanwhile, the Workplace Fairness Act requires employers to put in effort so that their workplaces are safe against harassment, discrimination, assault, and other forms of sexual or gender-related harm. 

Under this act, employers can be held liable for sexual offenses, even if they did not do the offense themselves (e.g., another employee, like a supervisor, was the perpetrator). It also prohibits employers from preventing employees from speaking out about discrimination or harassment in the workplace. 

Furthermore, Oregon takes certain measures to protect those who suffer from domestic violence. Although domestic violence may not happen in the workplace, employers must still do their part to aid their employees who are victims of it. For instance, they will have to grant victims leave to seek assistance or medical treatment. 

Employers may transfer, reassign, or change schedules for the safety of the employee. They also cannot fire employees for being victims of domestic violence, but they can limit leaves or refuse requests for safety (e.g., reassignment or changing locks) if it causes the business significant difficulty or expense. 

Wages and Paychecks in Oregon

Most employees in Oregon are paid by the hour, following a minimum wage that varies per county and paycheck regulations. We shall discuss them in this section. 

Minimum Wage

Unlike other states, there is no consistent minimum wage across the state of Oregon. Instead, it depends on the county. 

For instance, as of November 2023, those working in Portland metro, which includes the counties of Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington, have a minimum wage of $15.45 per hour. Meanwhile, workers in non-urban areas receive $13.20 per hour. 

The rest of the state has $14.20 per hour as the minimum wage, which is the standard for Oregon. The rate increases every 1st of July and applies to both adults and minors.  

Furthermore, unlike some states like Maine where tips can be considered part of the wages, Oregon treats wages and tips as separate payments. Therefore, employees in tip-heavy industries must still receive the minimum wage from their employer, regardless of whether they receive a lot of tips. 

Overtime Pay

Working hours that exceed the 40-hour cap per week are considered overtime. The compensation for overtime in Oregon is equivalent to 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate. Thus, if you are working in Portland with a minimum wage, your overtime pay should be at least $23.175. 

Note that the regular rate includes non-discretionary bonuses. However, amounts like reimbursements or premium pay are excluded.  

Paycheck Regulations

Oregon employers must pay their workers on a regular schedule that does not have a gap of more than 35 days. They also cannot hold paychecks to discipline workers or force them to return items or equipment. 

Furthermore, there are strict due dates for final paychecks. For instance, if the employee gives at least a 48-hour notice of termination of employment, the employer must give their final pay on the last day of employment, unless it’s a weekend or a holiday. If the due dates are not met, the employer must pay a penalty. 

Exemptions to Wage and Paycheck Laws

Exemptions to the minimum wage rates, overtime pay, and paycheck regulations do exist, although they are rare. 

Usually, agricultural workers and independent contractors are some of the workers not covered by the laws because they do not have an “employer-employee” relationship. Other individuals who may be exempt are some student workers, outside sales workers, babysitters, and elderly companions. 

Oregon Work Leave Laws

Employees need work leaves to be able to take a long break from work without fearing that they will not have a job to return to. In Oregon, some of the leaves given to workers are sick time and family leave.

Sick time can be taken when the employee or their family is sick or suffering from medical illnesses, injured, or needs a checkup or consultation. An Oregon employee can have up to 40 hours of sick time, with one hour per 30 hours worked. Furthermore, sick time will be paid only if the employer has at least six employees in Portland or 10 across Oregon. 

Meanwhile, the Oregon Family Leave Act, or OFLA, gives employees a break separate from their sick time. This family leave is available only to those working in businesses with 25+ employees. It is equivalent to 12 weeks per year and can be used for parent duties, serious health issues, bereavement, military family leave, and other similar reasons. 

An OFLA break is usually unpaid, but Oregon now has a paid leave program under which employees can apply for leave. However, the paid leave program’s scope is often narrower. For instance, it does not include bereavement, so employees may still have to take an unpaid OFLA. 

There are more of these work leaves available to employees in Oregon, such as vacation and military family leaves. Therefore, it is important to discuss with your employer what benefits apply to you or read more about time off on the Bureau of Labor and Industries website

Is Oregon an At-Will Employment State?

Oregon is an “at-will” employment state, so businesses or employers can terminate employee contracts without notice or reason. Employees can also end the work relationship without cause or without informing their employer. 

However, there are limits to this setup. Chief among them is that employers cannot fire employees based on discriminatory reasons. Therefore, if a worker is let go for their age, race, or other unfair and biased cause, they may report the business or employer. 

Another limitation is that employers cannot retaliate against employees who whistle-blow or report the business by firing them. 

Employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements may also further limit the reasons a worker may be fired. For instance, if the contract or agreement states that the employee cannot be fired without notice within a set time, the employer can be sued for doing otherwise. 

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Oregon?

Generally, the limits of the at-will employment statement may also qualify as wrongful termination in Oregon. Therefore, if an employee was let go for discriminatory reasons or causes that constitute a violation of contracts or bargaining agreements, the employer may be sued for wrongful termination. 

It’s important to note, though, that wrongful termination based on discrimination is specific. An employee cannot just sue for wrongful termination because they were treated differently. The discrimination must involve protected classes or actions, like:

  • Racial groups or ethnic minorities.  

  • Elderly, minors, or some other age group.

  • Religious sectors.

  • Gender and sexual orientation classes. 

  • People with disability. 

  • Military. 

  • Those with expunged juvenile records. 

Meanwhile, some of the protected actions include:

  • Filing for workers’ comp.

  • Performing jury duties.

  • Taking a protected work leave. 

  • Reporting or whistleblowing about illegal activities or unsafe workplaces. 

Therefore, if an employee was fired or not hired because of their gender or due to them filing for workers’ comp, the employer may be reported to authorities. The worker may also pursue a lawsuit. 

Besides termination of employment that involves protected classes and actions, wrongful termination may include cases where the employer violates a clause in the employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. 

How Do You Report an Employer in Oregon for Wrongful Termination?

Being wrongfully terminated from employment is distressing, but there are measures one can take to be reinstated or claim compensation. These are the options:

  • Submit a complaint through the employer’s internal grievance procedure.

  • File an employment discrimination or retaliation complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries.  

  • Report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • File a civil suit with either the State Circuit Court or Federal District Court.

To know your best option for rectifying your wrongful termination, it may be best to consult a lawyer, especially one that specializes in such cases. They can best advise on how to proceed, whether with a complaint or lawsuit or by filing different reports concurrently. They can also inform you of the kind of evidence you will need to gather to strengthen your report or civil suit. 

Examples of Oregon Employment Lawsuits

Wrongful termination in Oregon can be approached in two ways: report to authorities or file a lawsuit. The latter may allow the employee to receive more money, as there may be compensation for emotional distress and similar losses.

A great example would be the lawsuit filed by Linda Boly, a registered nurse in Portland. In 2013, her employment was terminated after 34 years. 

Her lawyer asserted that she was fired for her age and her complaints against hospital policies, both of which are considered limits to the at-will employment system of Oregon as they violate discrimination laws. Eventually, Boly won her case and was awarded three million dollars.  

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Oregon?

Wrongful termination must be reported immediately, or a case must be filed as soon as possible. Otherwise, the employee may miss the deadline or statute of limitations, which is usually one year or five years after the discriminatory action. 

The statute depends on the specifics of the case and which agency they are filing a complaint or lawsuit with. 

For instance, the five-year deadline is mostly for discriminatory incidents that happened on or after September 2019. If an employee was wrongfully terminated before that period, they may struggle to put up a case now, as more than a year has lapsed. 

An example of the statute of limitations affecting an employee’s case was that of a 2006 lawsuit filed against Oregon Glass Company. It involved sex and age discrimination, among other accusations. However, the plaintiff did not file her lawsuit within the Bureau of Labor & Industries’ deadline, thereby barring some of her claims. 

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Oregon for Wrongful Termination?

If an employer loses as a defendant in a wrongful termination lawsuit in Oregon, the court will ask them to pay the employee. This amount may include lost wages and benefits, litigation or legal fees, compensation for emotional distress, and punitive damages. 

However, there is a limit to how much an employee can receive or sue an employer for certain aspects of a wrongful termination lawsuit. 

For instance, compensatory and punitive damages are limited to $50,000 to $300,000, depending on the number of employees the business has. Meanwhile, for non-economic damages like emotional distress, there is a $500,000 cap. 

Resources for Employees in Oregon

As an Oregon-based employee, educating oneself about the state’s labor and employment laws is not just a responsibility. It is crucial for one’s best interests, especially in case an unfortunate incident like discrimination or harassment occurs in the future. 

Thus, to further make yourself aware of the employment-related legislation in Oregon, here are some resources you can refer to:

Bureau of Labor and Industries

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is responsible for implementing labor and employment laws, protecting workers’ rights, and facilitating other efforts for the betterment of the working sector. Thus, it investigates complaints, enforces penalties, and performs other duties that safeguard the working class. 

The agency’s website serves as a valuable resource for information related to workers, including employment and labor laws. For instance, its “For Workers” page directs Oregonian employees to information about their rights, how to complain, and laws, among other topics. There is also a “For Employer” page, which is similarly helpful. – Government Benefits

As an Oregonian, you may take advantage of several government benefits, such as child care and employment assistance, food benefits, medical benefits, etc. If you are not aware of all of them, you can visit the Government Benefits page of the site. 

The website compiles the various government benefits in Oregon. You can click on the categories or programs to learn more about how to take advantage of them. For instance, the Food Benefits part contains information about programs like food stamps, school meals, and the like. 

State of Oregon – Employment Department

Oregon’s Employment Department has resources for job seekers, unemployed individuals, current employees or workers, and businesspeople. It organizes or provides information on virtual and in-person job fairs and events for Oregonians who are looking for employment. As for the unemployed, the department has a claim system for obtaining benefits.

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