Employment laws are set forth in state and federal legislation. Following are some of the things that Oregon employees should know about the basic employment laws and rights in their state.
Discriminatory Hiring Practices
Employment advertisements must be content-neutral. They may not discriminate against applicants based on personal characteristics such as race, sex, national origin, religion, or disability.
When interviewing job applicants, employers may not ask about national origin, age, sexual orientation, marital status, children, or arrest records, although asking about criminal convictions is permissible. A disabled person may be asked if he or she can perform the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws
Federal minimum wage and overtime laws are regulated under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The federal minimum wage of $7.25 is surpassed by Oregon’s minimum wage rate, which is at $8.80. This rate is adjusted each January 1 for inflation using the U.S. City Average Price Index. Overtime pay applies after 40 hours worked in a work week except for cannery workers and those working in packing plants, driers, mills, and factories after working 10 hours per day. Tipped employees must be paid the current minimum wage of $8.80 per hour.
Employees who are exempt from the state minimum wage and overtime laws include certain farm workers; bona fide executive, administrative and professional employees; private domestic workers who reside in their employer’s residence; and outside salespersons.
A Safe Workplace
State and federal OSHA and other safety laws require a safe and hazard-free work area for all employees. Employees may report safety violations anonymously and are entitled to protection from retaliation by their employers.
State Workers' Compensation Insurance
Oregon law requires nearly all employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage. This is a no-fault system for workers injured on the job or who contract an occupational disease or illness. The system provides weekly wage-loss compensation, payment of medical bills and prescriptions, vocational rehabilitation, disability payments, and death benefits to the surviving spouse and children. Statutory guidelines provide the amount of benefits to be paid. Those not covered include casual labor workers, private residence workers, some corporate officers, and limited liability company members.
Leave and Time Off
Family medical leave: The federal Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) permits employees in companies with at least 50 employees and all public and state employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a family member, a newborn, or a newly adopted child. Eligible employees may take family leave if they have a serious medical condition. They can also take up to 26 months to care for a military family member.
Oregon’s family leave act applies to employers with 25 or more employees who have worked for 180 days preceding the leave and at least 25 hours per week unless the leave is to care for a newly born child, an adopted child or a foster child placement. Parents may have leave for a sick child up to 24 weeks. Bereavement leave is also permitted.
Leave to vote: Oregon has no specific law entitling workers to time off to vote on Election Day.
Laws on Harassment
All employees are protected from any form of harassment under state and federal laws. This includes making sexually explicit comments, lewd jokes, displaying sexual photos, drawings, or sending offensive email that creates a hostile working environment. Employees, executives, or supervisors who engage in conduct that threatens or intimidates another employee, or that conditions a benefit on a sexual or intimate act, or initiates unwanted physical contact of any kind may be liable for harassment.
Harassment usually means sexual conduct, but it refers to any offensive gesture, comment, or other activity that is directed at workers based on their religion, national origin, gender, race, or disability. The conduct must be frequent, pervasive, and severe.
An employee who has been disciplined, discharged, demoted, or who voluntarily resigns based on a hostile working environment may have a claim for harassment against his employer.
Laws Regarding Termination
At-will contracts: Employers and employees may end their employment relationship at any time with or without a reason if no written contract exists. Otherwise, an employee can only be fired for reasons stated in the contract.
Wrongful firing: Employers cannot fire someone for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation for having filed a complaint or claim against the employer. Other unlawful reasons for termination include pregnancy, age, work-related injuries, or illness. Also, a discharge may not be in violation of public policy.
Vacation pay: There is no federal law pertaining to vacation pay. An employee who has earned vacation time but has not used it is not entitled to receive it upon termination unless the employer has a written policy permitting it and applies the policy to every employee. You may also get vacation pay if your employer agreed to give it to you upon termination.
Unemployment Benefits and COBRA
Unemployment compensation: To be eligible for unemployment compensation, residents or in-state workers must have been discharged through no fault of their own, not be disabled, be actively seeking work, filing ongoing claims, and not refuse work unless for a good reason.
COBRA: Federal law requires employers with at least 20 full-time employees to allow discharged workers the right to continue group health benefits for up to 18 months and up to 36 months if there is a “qualifying event.” Oregon has a mini-COBRA law covering employers with fewer than 20 full-time employees for 18 months for the employee, spouse and dependent child.
Ask an Employment and Labor Lawyer
State employment laws are complicated and this is not meant to be an in-depth article. Consult an Oregon labor attorney if you have concerns regarding employment laws that might affect you.