With so many businesses struggling to remain open during a tough economy, many Americans are worrying about reduced hours or job loss. Depending on the terms of employment and how the employer has laid off, fired or otherwise terminated a worker’s employment, job termination can be illegal in some cases.
Most states including Oregon operate under the “at-will employment” rule, which is an understanding that an employee may be fired or may leave at any time and for any lawful reason. Without a contract or through a collective bargaining agreement for union members, most employees can be laid off or fired with little notice.
Protections against wrongful termination
If the employee was fired because of race, gender, national origin, disability religion or age, however, federal laws make this action illegal. Pregnant women are also protected from discrimination under these laws.
Job termination as a retaliatory action is also illegal and is protected under both federal and Oregon state law. In Oregon, it is also illegal to terminate an employee for attacking the character of another employee or for resisting sexual harassment. It is illegal as well to fire an employee for reporting violations of the law or violations of safety and health regulations.
Employees who have agreed to and signed a written contract enjoy protections under the contract that guarantee a specified salary or pay rate. A contract may also include specific language for job termination, which may include a severance package and the notice period for termination. If the employer violates the terms of the contract when they fire an employee, they can be sued for breach of contract.
Union employees also work under a contract that usually includes a grievance procedure. The employee must file the grievance in a timely fashion and follow the procedures outlined in the union contract. Going through the grievance process does not guarantee that the worker will get their job back, however. If the employer believes that they were wrongly terminated or that the union did not represent them in good faith, they may file a claim both against the employer and the union.
It is important to have skilled legal counsel to help you to fight for your rights if you are facing unlawful job termination, breach of contract, discrimination or retaliation from your employer.