As we ushered in the New Year, Oregon’s active 2019 legislative session impelled the need for working on several policies and handbook updates for proprietors doing business in Oregon. Here is an overview of the most outstanding employment law developments:

The Oregon Workplace Fairness Act

As of June 11th, 2019, Governor Kate Brown signed into law the Senate Bill (“Workplace Fairness Act”). The Workplace Fairness Act has a substantive effect on what employers should and must do concerning harassment and discrimination claims.

As part of workplace misconduct settlements, employees should not be required to consent to disclose the alleged conduct or disparage employers or purported perpetrators. Employers are also not allowed to ask their personnel to put a pen into agreeing to a no-hire arrangement as a term or condition of settlement. If the employee requests either of these terms, nonetheless, the employer by law must include it, provided that the employee has seven days following signing the contract to repeal it.

Taking into consideration these changes, the proprietor needs to assess and cautiously consider updating their standard employment provisions, like non-disclosure and non-disparagement terms in settlement agreements.

The Fairness Act also augmented the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving workplace misconduct, that is, harassment and discrimination from one year to five years, which will proliferate the number of informed employers. The set time frame must be made clear to the personnel in the employer’s guidelines. Employers are also required to record and archive reports of misconduct for at least seven years, moving forward.

The Act also makes ‘golden parachute’ arrangements rescindable where an employer finds that his or her personnel are involved in unlawful; conduct. The employer, in such cases, must carry out a good-faith inquiry of reports of discrimination or harassment. If he or she finds the allegations to have merit, then he/she must be free from its compulsions under the golden parachute provision.

As per the new laws that make up the Fairness Act, employers should make sure their guidelines include:

  • A process for personnel to report verboten conduct;
  • The identity of the person elected by the employer to obtain reports of prohibited conduct.
  • A proper account of the pertinent statute of limitations (which is now five years);
  • A statement that an employer must not coerce a member of staff to either sign a non-disclosure or non-disparagement contract as part of any settlement, and a description of the meaning of those terms;
  • A statement that counsels employers and personnel to record any incidents involving illegal employment discrimination or sexual assault.

The Oregon Pregnancy and Lactation Accommodations

As of January 2020, all Oregon employers, irrespective of the number of employees they have, are required by law to offer practical accommodations for known confines relating to pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. 

These accommodations may include, but are not necessarily restricted to:

  • Procurement or alteration of equipment or devices.
  • More frequent or more extended break periods.
  • Assistance with manual labor.
  • Or adjustments of the work schedules or task assignments.

The new laws also incorporate an unjustified hardship exception that is assessed depending on several factors. They include:

  • Nature and the cost of the accommodation.
  • The fiscal resources.
  • The size of the premises.
  • The quality of work done.

As employers, you should be vigilant about not requiring accommodations where your staff members have not explicitly requested them, as such conduct can automatically give rise to liability.

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