As is the case in many jurisdictions, employment in Oregon is “at will.” At will employment generally means that an employer is free to hire or fire an employee without reason or for virtually any reason absent a few exceptions. Some exceptions to at will employment include:
- An employer cannot fire or discriminate against an employee because that employee is a member of a protected class such as age, race, sexual orientation, or gender.
- An employer cannot retaliate against an employee by firing, demoting or unfairly treating an employee for reporting unsafe or unlawful conduct at work. For example, if an employee reports that a company’s financial records are being altered in order to pay less taxes, and that employee is subsequently fired for reporting such conduct, he or she would likely have a claim. This is often referred to as a “whistleblowing” claim.
- If an employee has an employment contract with specified terms, the employee may have a breach of contract claim if the employer does not fulfill its contract terms.
- If an employer fires an employee in violation of public policy, the employee may have a legal cause of action. For example, it is unlawful for an employer to fire an employee for serving on jury duty, complying with a subpoena to appear in court or cooperating with a government investigation.
Earlier this week, Nike prevailed in a $27 million lawsuit brought by a former employee who alleged that he was wrongfully terminated for whistleblowing. Douglas Ossanna, a former Nike electrician, alleged that Nike fired him in retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions.
Nike said that Ossanna was fired because he snuck his son and two others into the Bo Jackson Fitness Center to play hoops.