Changes in Oregon's Employment Law
November 6, 2007
The new year marks the start of many important changes in Oregon's employment law. As the end of 2007 draws near, it is important to review your workplace policies and procedures to prepare for these changes and to ensure a smooth transition into the new legislative and regulatory scheme. For your convenience, we have summarized a few of the most important updates.
Minimum Wage Increase
On September 19, 2007, the Oregon Labor Commissioner announced a 15-cents-per-hour increase for Oregon's minimum wage workers. Effective on January 1, 2008, the new minimum wage is $7.95 per hour. Oregon's minimum wage will be the third highest in the nation, after California and Massachusetts.
Unlawful Employment Practices Damages
Recently the Oregon legislature fundamentally changed the remedies scheme for compensating plaintiffs who allege various unlawful employment practices in Oregon.
The revised statute allows compensatory and punitive damages in civil actions for unlawful employment practices related to race, religion, color, sex, national origin, marital status, age, and recently, sexual orientation. In addition, compensatory and punitive damages will also be available for unlawful employment practices related to medical support status, workers' compensation benefits or an employee's participation in criminal or civil proceedings against the employer. Courts are authorized to grant actual compensatory damages or $200, whichever is greater.
Before these amendments, Oregon courts were limited to granting only equitable relief, such as injunctions, back pay, and reinstatement, as well as attorney fees for most unlawful discrimination. These amendments apply only to actions that are started after January 1, 2008.
Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA)
Amendments to OFLA now allow eligible employees to take family leave from work to care for a grandparent or grandchild. The Oregon legislature has thus expanded the meaning of family member to include spouses, biological, adoptive or foster parents and children, parents in law and grandparents and grandchildren.
The expansion of grounds for taking family leave means that it is an unlawful practice to deny family leave to, or retaliate or discriminate against, any eligible employee who has asked for or taken family leave to care for a grandparent or grandchild.
Mandatory Rest Periods for Breast-Feeding
Starting January 1, 2008 employers must provide reasonable unpaid rest periods to accommodate employees' need to breast-feed their children. Employers must allow a period of up to 30 minutes for each four hour work period. The employee must notify the employer that she intends to breast-feed upon returning to work and, if feasible, must take the rest period for breast-feeding at the same time as other rest or meal periods to which the employee is entitled. Employers are not required to provide rest periods for breast-feeding if doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer's business.