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Employment Law FAQs

What does at-will employment mean?

In Oregon, there is a presumption of at-will employment—i.e., an employee and an employer enter and remain in an employment relationship at one another’s “will.” What that means is that either party to the employment relationship can terminate the relationship without legal repercussions flowing to the other party; that termination will be presumed to be a product of at-will employment. A notable exception to an at-will employment would be “for cause” employment, as typically seen in the setting of union memberships and collective bargaining agreements.

In the context of a termination, demotion, reprimand, etc, (“tangible adverse action”) the at-will presumption can sometimes be rebutted if the employee can provide evidence of an unlawful employment practice. Namely, if an employee can show the tangible adverse action was due to his or her membership in a protected class, his or her participation in a protected activity or, in the alternative, the termination is determined “wrongful” because it violates a recognized societal public policy in Oregon.

How do I know if my employer is treating me unlawfully?

In Oregon, not everything your employer may do to you that is unfair, rude, or down-right mean is necessarily “unlawful.” The legislature (both in Oregon and Washington, D.C.) is very careful not to overstep and micro-manage the employee/employer relationship. However, there are some things that may land your employer in hot water. Whether your employer is doing something unlawful depends on whether the employer action in question violates an applicable state or federal statute, or alternatively constitutes ”wrongful termination.”

What is a “protected class”?

In Oregon, common protected classes include, but are not necessarily limited to, race, color, religion, sex, sexual origination, national origin, marital status, age, disability, and injured-worker status.

If you have evidence that you were treated differently by your employer because of your membership in a protected class, you may want to speak to an attorney about a potential employment law claim.

What is a “protected activity”?

In Oregon, common protected activities include, but are not necessarily limited to, reporting an unlawful employment practice, whistleblowing, serving jury duty, filing a workers’ compensation claim, taking protected FMLA or OFLA leave, demanding your lawful wages, requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability, attending criminal proceedings, and reporting for military service.

If you have evidence that you were treated differently by your employer because of your participation in a protected activity, you may want to speak to one of our attorneys about a potential employment claim.

What is “wrongful termination”?

In Oregon, wrongful termination is a common-law cause of action and an exception to at-will employment. An employee may only state a claim for “wrongful termination” if, first, the employer action is otherwise not addressed by the applicable employment law statutes and, second, the employer’s motive for firing the employee would harm or interfere with an important interest of the community. Courts may find a termination was “wrongful,” and thus illegal, if the employee was discharged for (1) fulfilling his or her societal duty or (2) exercising rights of public importance related to his or her role as an employee.

What should I do if I think my employer is behaving unlawfully?

Obviously, if you feel that remaining at work places you in an unsafe or dangerous position, you should do whatever is necessary to remove yourself from harm’s way. Anything short of that emergency situation, it is best practices to contact any attorney before you decide to quit your job. That is because quitting your job may have significant implications regarding whether you can claim lost wages and lost future wages as “damages” in any potential law suit.

If you have evidence that you were treated differently by your employer because of your membership in a protected class, you may want to speak to an attorney about a potential employment law claim before you take the drastic step of quitting your job.

For more information about employment law, contact our Salem employment law attorney at Elmer & Brunot and schedule a free consultation today.

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