Losing a job is always an unpleasant experience, especially if the job is taken away unexpectedly. Many Oregonians who suffer this experience feel powerless and frightened. Their income has been taken away and they do not know what to do next. Oregon has a number of laws that protect employee rights, and an understanding of these rights can ease the pain of losing one’s job.
The first rule: Get paid
An employer must pay a discharged employee all wages owing by the end of the first business day after the discharge. If the employee quits without at least 48 hours advance notice, the employer must pay all wages owed within five days or the next regular payday, whichever comes first.
Understanding the “at will” rule
An employee’s rights are significantly restricted by what is known as the “at will employment rule.” In Oregon, all employment contracts are “at will,” that is, the employer can fire an employee for any reason that is not illegal. Conversely, any employee can quit a job for no reason. In the absence of a binding written contract between the employer and the employee, the only barriers to an at will firing are state or federal laws that prohibit such actions. An employer can discharge an employer for any reason, such as the color of the employee’s work shirt, but an employer cannot fire a person if the action racially or gender based or based on religious belief or if the employee is suffering from a partial disability.
Workers who belong to unions are usually subject to an overall contract that applies to all union members. These contracts, usually called “collective bargaining agreements,” set out the terms of employment for all members of the union or all employees of a single employer. These contracts specify the procedures for firing union members and provide grievance procedures for employees who think their firing was unfair.
Federal and state law prohibit firings for filing a claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other examples of wrongful discharge include firing a person for resisting on-the-job sexual harassment. If a person is subjected to work conditions that are deemed to be oppressive, the person may quit and claim that the employer imposed the harsh conditions as a means of forcing the employee to quit.
In most of the situations listed above, the wrongful actions of the employers give rise to a claim for lost income and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Anyone who has suffered from any of these actions may wish to seek advice from an experienced employment attorney for an evaluation of the facts and an opinion on the likelihood of recovering damages.