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Oregon Employment Law Basics

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Learn about your workplace rights as an Oregon employee.

If you are an Oregon employee, you are protected by federal and state laws throughout the employment process, from hiring through the end of your relationship with your employer. Below, we explain some of the laws that apply to Oregon employees, including laws prohibiting discrimination, requiring employers to pay overtime and the minimum wage, and giving employees the right to take time off work—including paid sick leave, a benefit available only in a handful of states.

Discrimination and Harassment Laws in Oregon

Under federal law, employers may not make employment decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), disability, or genetic information. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law).

These laws prohibit discrimination in every aspect of employment, from job postings, interviews, and hiring decisions to promotions, benefits, pay, discipline, performance reviews, layoffs, and firing. For detailed information on the federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.

Oregon law also protects employees from discrimination based on these traits. In addition, employees in Oregon are protected from discrimination based on marital status, sexual orientation, being a victim of domestic violence, being a parent with a court-imposed medical support order, and refusing to attend a meeting sponsored by an employer that has a primary purpose of communicating the employer’s religious or political views. All Oregon employers must comply with these laws, regardless of size. The Civil Rights Division of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) enforces these laws and takes complaints of discrimination and harassment.

Workplace harassment based on any of these traits is also illegal. From a legal perspective, harassment is unwelcome workplace conduct or comments, based on the target’s protected characteristic, that creates a hostile work environment or that the target must endure as a condition of getting or keeping the job. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on disability, ethnicity, religion, and other protected traits.

Your employer may not retaliate against you for complaining of discrimination or harassment. Your employer may not discipline, fire, or take other negative action against you because you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Oregon Civil Rights Division), or in a lawsuit.

Workplace Safety Laws in Oregon

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe workplace, free of known hazards. This law applies in all states, including Oregon. Employers must provide safe working conditions, including the training and safety equipment necessary for your industry and the type of work you do.

Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. Your employer may not retaliate against you for complaining about unsafe working conditions.

Oregon Workers’ Compensation

If you suffer an on-the-job injury, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most Oregon employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides you with a percentage of your usual earnings, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.

Wage and Hour Laws in Oregon

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Oregon law set the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage laws. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. For 2016, Oregon employers must pay employees at least $9.75 an hour (the rate increases every July); the rate is different for the Portland metro area and for nonurban counties. If you work in a local area with a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that higher amount. (You can find out the minimum wage where you work at the website maintained by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, or BOLI (see the BOLI’s minimum wage map page.)

Under the FLSA and Oregon law, employers must pay employees time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fall within an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime.

Learn more about Oregon wage and overtime rules at the BOLI website. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor.

Your Right to Time Off Work in Oregon

Many employers voluntarily offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In Oregon, most of these benefits are discretionary. However, employees in Oregon have the right to paid sick leave.

Unpaid Leave Rights

In Oregon, employers must offer unpaid leave for:

  • Family and medical leave. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers with at least 50 employees must give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness, bonding with a new child, and caregiving. Oregon requires employers with at least 25 employees to give eligible employees time off for these same reasons, as well as to care for a sick child at home and to deal with the death of a family member. The time available for each type of leave varies; see Your Right to Time Off Work in Oregon for more information.
  • Domestic violence leave. Oregon law requires employers with at least six employees to allow employees who are victims (or family members of victims) of domestic or sexual violence or stalking to take time off to get counseling, medical treatment, legal help, or other services.
  • Military family leave. An employee may use the federal FMLA to take time off to handle certain practical matters arising from a family member’s deployment or military service. And employers must give eligible employees up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who suffers a serious injury on active military duty. Oregon law requires employers to give employees two weeks off to spend with a spouse or domestic partner who is called to active duty or is on leave from deployment.
  • Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Oregon military leave law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service. Oregon law extends similar rights to employees who are called to active state duty in the militia of Oregon or another state.
  • Jury duty. Oregon employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service. This time is unpaid.

Paid Sick Leave

Oregon employers with at least ten employees must provide paid sick leave to employees, who may use the time for their own illnesses, to care for ill family members, to care for a new child, as bereavement leave, or as domestic violence leave. Employees accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers may cap an employee’s accrual at 80 hours per year, and may limit an employee to taking no more than 40 hours off in one year. Smaller employers do not have to pay employees for this time off.

Job Termination in Oregon

Oregon employees generally work at will. This means they can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for complaining about illegal discrimination or filing a wage claim for unpaid overtime.

Post-Termination Benefits

If you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own (for example, you are not fired for serious misconduct and you don’t quit voluntarily), you may qualify for unemployment benefits in Oregon. Once you start receiving benefits, you will have to search for work to continue receiving them. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job.

Under a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), you may have the right to continue your health insurance coverage after your employment ends. However, you will have to pay the full premium (including whatever portion your employer used to pay), plus up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue these benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on your situation.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have questions about your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced Oregon employment lawyer.

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