Oregon is what is deemed an “at-will” state for employment. This means that employees can generally be terminated for almost any reason at any time. It also means that employees can quit at any time for any reason.
It may seem like at-will employees have very few rights, but at-will employees have some protections which employers cannot violate.
Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their race, sex, age, disability, religion and other protected categories. They also cannot retaliate against employees for reporting violations of the law or participating in investigations into potential violations of the law.
Elements of a successful retaliation claim
To be successful with a retaliation claim, employees must be able to prove certain elements. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance, employees need to prove that:
- They were engaging in a protected activity. This means that they made a complaint, they provided information, acted as a witness or participated in some manner in an investigation into violations of the law. It can also mean the employees communicated that they were opposed to discrimination in the workplace, whether the discrimination affected them or other employees.
- The employer took action against the employee based on their engagement in a protected activity. This can apply to firing, demoting or a variety of different actions that are meant to deter employees from engaging in a protected activity.
- That there is a causal relationship between participation in a protected activity and the materially adverse action against the employee. This means that the adverse action would not have occurred absent the participation in a protected activity, or at least that the employee’s protected activity was a motivation for the employer’s action.
It is not retaliation every time that employers take adverse actions against their employees in Oregon. However, there are many instances when it is considered retaliation.
If employees are successful with a retaliation claim they may be entitled to damages, but proving these claims can be difficult and consulting with experienced attorneys could be beneficial.