Several new Oregon anti-discrimination laws went into effect as of January 1. Here is a look at some of these laws, along with recommendations for employers.
Three new laws will bring Oregon’s code in line with federal statutes prohibiting discrimination based on a disability, military service or whistle-blowing.
The new Oregon law, approved by the Legislature when it was Senate Bill 874, is intended to keep the state consistent with the federal ‘Americans with Disabilities Act.’ The new law contains four key changes:
• prohibits discrimination against individuals “regarded as” disabled, whether or not their perceived impairment limits a major life activity;
• construing the term “disability” in favor of broad coverage;
• considers an impairment that is episodic or in remission to be a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active; and
• determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity without regard to the effects of mitigating measures except ordinary eyeglasses.
Major life activities include, but are not limited, to: self-care, ambulation, communication, employment and ability to acquire, rent or maintain property. These are activities that the average person in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty.
For example, most people can walk three blocks with little difficulty. An inability to do so could be considered a disability. In contrast, the average person cannot walk 10 miles without growing fatigued. The inability to perform this activity would not constitute a disability.
Why you need to know: Companies employing fewer than 15 people have in the past not been subject to these rules under federal law. However, the Oregon law now applies to employers of six or more employees. Find out more about employment discrimination in Portland.
Military service discrimination
Earlier this year, the Oregon Military Family Leave Act went into effect. It allows spouses of members of the Armed Forces, National Guard or Military Reserve up to 14 days of unpaid leave per deployment if they work for an employer that employs more than 25 people.
On January 1, 2010 a second law dealing with discrimination based on military service goes into effect: HB 3256. It will be the first Oregon state law that mirrors the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against service members and veterans. The new state law makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a veteran in initial employment, reemployment following deployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment, or to retaliate against the service member for exercising the rights provided by the new law.
Why employers need to know: The OMFLA provides greater rights than the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Formerly, the FMLA applied only to employers with more than 50 employees; the new Oregon law applies to employers with 25 or more employees.
The state anti-discrimination law HB 3256 was created in part because state legislators hoped to make it easier to bring valid claims against offending employers, and few veterans could afford to enforce their federal rights against a non-complying, non-cooperative employer. Under the new law, employees can more easily and affordably file both administrative complaints with the Bureau of Labor and Industries and lawsuits in court.
Another new Oregon law, HB 3162, makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge or otherwise penalize an employee with regard to promotion, compensation or other terms, conditions or privileges of employment for reporting in good faith information that the employee believes is evidence of a violation of a state or federal law, rule or regulation. It is important to note that the employee need not be right; rather, it is the good faith belief that triggers this protection.
Why employers need to know: The new law is an expansion of current whistle-blower protections in Oregon.
Until now, Oregon law has prohibited discrimination against an employee for initiating or aiding in criminal or civil proceedings. The new law expands protection to cover complaints about violations of any state or federal law, rule or regulation regardless of severity. This means, for example, that an employee’s complaint about another employee exceeding the speed limit while driving a company car could be protected under the new law.
The new whistle-blower law broadens the protections available to employees. For example, a claim for wrongful termination that fails because the employee’s report of a violation was not a job-related right of the nature sufficient to support that claim, could now be brought under the new law instead. Also, the new law applies even to employers with only one employee.
Employers can find out more by visiting www.leg.state.or.us/bills_laws/home.htm.
Also, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has now revised its “Equal Opportunity Employment is the Law” poster to include information about the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which went into effect on November 21. The poster meets the posting requirement under federal law prohibiting job discrimination and can be downloaded by visiting www1.eeoc.gov/employers/poster.cfm.