In our current environment of low unemployment, you hopefully will not hear the words: “You Are Fired!” But, with new competition in hiring, American employers terminate current employees for many reasons. Both employers and employees should understand related risks and responsibilities and protect themselves in termination situations.
Oregon is an “At Will” employment state. This means that either an employee or an employer may terminate an employment relationship with or without cause at any time. There is an exception to “At Will” employment if a contract of employment exists between an employee and an employer, which otherwise changes this “At Will” relationship. Clarifying whether or not an employee is “At Will” is a very important distinction, which should be clearly communicated at the outset of any employment relationship.
If you are an employer, you should strongly consider: implementing a uniform employee discipline system, documenting any and all adverse employment actions with any problem employee with at least 2 witnesses present; documenting all corrective actions in the employee’s employment file, and conducting termination/exit interviews with all employees witnessed and documented in the same manner, and using and updating an Employee Handbook at all times. “At Will” employees must clearly understand their “At Will” status.
Employee Handbooks help clarify all employee expectations and conditions that apply to employment. Obtain your employee’s written acknowledgment to your Employee Handbook before they start working for you and periodically as the Employee Handbook is updated over time. Seek legal counsel to ensure your related documentation and any Employee Handbook are drafted appropriately to avoid creating even bigger problems caused by non-compliance. Ideally, an attorney should review your Employee Handbook at least annually to ensure its compliance with any changes in applicable state and federal law. Legal compliance in employment matters is complex and should be handled by an attorney familiar with these issues.
A good Oregon resource for general information regarding employment law matters, required Oregon employer postings, and related employer publications can be accessed through Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Technical Assistance for Employers service. You can get more information here: https://www.oregon.gov/boli/TA/Pages/T_Tabooks.aspx
BOLI has a helpline for Employers, which is free and can be reached by calling: 971-673-0824. You should consider calling BOLI prior to taking adverse employment action against an employee and/or otherwise calling your business attorney to ensure you best protect your business from retaliation, wrongful termination, discrimination, and/or other potential employee-based employment law claims.
If you are an employee, educate yourself about your employer’s expectations and understandings before you accept any job offer and at all times throughout your employment. In doing so, ensure you fully read and agree to any conditions of your employment memorialized in your employer’s Employee Handbook, or otherwise.
Employees should get a general understanding of what is required by your employer to maintain its legal compliance with its employees, so you understand your rights! You can also obtain good information at BOLI’s website here: https://www.oregon.gov/boli/WHD/pages/index.aspx
Employees are affording significant legal protections by law regardless of their employment status. Consequently, if you feel your employer terminated your employment wrongfully, in retaliation for your legal conduct, or in a discriminatory manner, you should contact the Oregon State Bar for an appropriate referral to an attorney to discuss those issues. You can obtain more information here: https://www.osbar.org/public/legalinfo/1171_lrs.htm
Whether you are an employer or an employee, you should ensure you are clear about your rights and responsibilities when employee termination issues arise. Consult with a qualified business attorney to understand your rights and obligations.