Getting fired or losing your job is never easy and it can be especially difficult if you were fired or terminated for reasons that are unjust or discriminatory. Oregon and federal law have many protections regarding discrimination and firing. Read on to get the “lay of the land” regarding Oregon law with respect to wrongful termination.
At the most basic level an employer can discharge an employee at any time and for any reason and an employee can quit at any time for any reason. This is called “at will employment”. Luckily for employees there are certain instances when the employer’s reason or motives for firing an employee go against important interests of the community.
There are three main categories of wrongful termination:
1. When an employee is fired for performing a public duty or fulfilling a societal obligation.
The Court focuses on whether the employee has produced evidence of a substantial public policy that would be thwarted if an employer were allowed to discharge its employee without liability. Unfortunately, this phrase is not particularly helpful in determining your rights; however, the courts have given us many examples of social obligations and public duties:
-An employee was fired for going to jury duty. The employee received a summons for jury duty, informed her employer that she was required to attend jury duty, employer said she couldn’t go. Employee asked the court to excuse her for jury duty but they said she’s got to show up. Employee shows up for jury duty on Monday and she gets fired on Thursday. The court found that jury duty is high on the scale of American institutions and citizen obligations. If an employer were permitted with impunity to discharge an employee for fulfilling her obligation to attend jury duty, the jury system would be adversely affected and the will of the community would be thwarted.
FUN FACT: In Massachusetts a court actually held the employer in contempt of court for firing an employee for going to jury duty.
-A bank employee was fired for refusing to disclose a client’s private financial information. The court essentially found it ridiculous that a bank would consider itself at liberty to disclose the intimate details of its depositors’ accounts. Secrecy is one of the inherent and fundamental concepts of the banking relationship.
-An employee was fired for refusing to sign a false statement regarding another employee. The court found that firing the employee was against the law because a member of society has an obligation not to defame others.
2. When an employee is fired for pursuing a private statutory right directly related to his role as an employee.
Several statutes lay out when it is not permissible to retaliate or fire an employee. An employer cannot discriminate or fire an employee because they:
-Made a wage claim or inquired about their wages. ORS 652.355;
-Inquired about their overtime pay, exemptions, or maximum working hours. ORS 652.020;
-Are of a particular race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, age, disability or familial status. ORS 659A.006;
-Applied for workers compensation benefits. ORS 659A.006;
-Are in uniformed service (National Guard, US Armed Forces, etc.). ORS 659A.082;
-Have a disability or applied for assistance with their disability. ORS 659A.082;
-Disclosed employer violations of state or federal law. ORS 659A.199.
3. When an employee is forced to quit their job due to unacceptable working conditions.
There are two scenarios where an employee’s decision to quit is considered a “constructive discharge” which means that you quit but you still have a claim against your employer.
-The first scenario is that your employer gave you the option to either quit or get fired.
-The second scenario is that your employer intentionally created working conditions that were so intolerable that a reasonable person would resign, and the employer wanted the employee to be forced out.
It is important to understand the scope and outline of the inner workings of these protections. As with anything in the legal world the analysis is fact specific. Supplementing the protections mentioned above, there are myriad federal laws that cover wrongful termination and discrimination. An experienced employment lawyer can help if you have questions about wage and hour issues or have been retaliated against.