Being fired is one of life’s most humiliating and frustrating experiences. A discharged worker may experience a variety of emotions, from anger to sadness to fear about the future and general hopelessness.
Despite these depressing emotions, employees in Oregon who have been discharged by an employer are not without legal rights. Understanding these rights can have a major impact on when the next paycheck will show up.
Overview of Oregon employment law
Oregon is an “at will” employment state. An employer can fire an employee at any time, and an employee can quit a job at any time without providing any advance notice.
This rule has several major exceptions. The most important exception is the existence of an employment contract that specifies the proper grounds for discharge or resignation.
The second important exception to the “at will rule” is “wrongful termination.” A wrongful termination occurs when an employer discharges an employer for an unlawful reason, such as breach of the employment contract, racial or gender discrimination, a complaint by the employee about discriminatory working conditions, or participation in a protected activity. This post will explore each of these examples.
Discharge based on unlawful discrimination
An employee cannot be lawfully discharged because of the employee’s race or gender. Some employers may want an all-white or all-male workplace. Any employee who is discharged in furtherance of either goal is the victim of unlawful discrimination.
Employers may also encourage a hostile work environment by permitting subordinates to subject members of the unwanted class to harassment or oppressive work conditions.
Participating in a protected activity
Discharge for participating in a protected activity is also a form of unlawful discrimination. For example, every employee in Oregon has the right to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits if the employee suffers a work-related injury.
An employee who is terminated for filing a workers’ compensation claim is therefore the subject of unlawful termination.
An employee who is discharged after reporting unlawful behavior or cooperating with regulatory or law enforcement agencies in an action against the employer also has a claim for wrongful termination.
Discharge in violation of employment contract
Any employee who has signed an employment contract with the employer has a claim for damages if the employer discharges the employee in violation of the terms of the agreement.