Oregon is an at-will employment state. Usually when defining at-will employment, people say that it means a person can be fired at any time for any reason. But that is not the whole story. Even where there is an at-will employment doctrine, some firings, or terminations, are still illegal. That means that if you are fired, you may have a case against your employer for what is called “wrongful termination.” Being fired is a wrongful termination if:
- A state, federal, or local law says that it is illegal to fire you for the reason you were fired for;
- Your being fired violates a contract; or
- Your being fired violates public policy.
The first two of these are fairly self explanatory. Since there are laws in place that say a person cannot be fired for being pregnant, if a person is fired for being pregnant she can sue her employer for wrongful termination. If a person has a contract that says he can only be fired for certain reasons, and then he is fired for some other reason, he can sue for wrongful termination. The third type, however, violations of public policy, are sometimes not as well known to people as the other two types of wrongful termination.
What is Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy?
While other types of wrongful termination cases have been around longer, wrongful termination based on public policy has only been recognized by Oregon courts since 1975. The state supreme court first acknowledged it in a case called Nees v. Hocks, 536 P.2d 512 (1975).The Court said in that case, “We conclude that there can be circumstances in which an employer discharges an employee for such a socially undesirable motive that the employer must respond in damages for any injury done.” Nees had lost her job because she had to go to jury duty.
Almost a decade later, in Delaney v. Taco Time International, 681 P.2d 114 (1984), the Court explained that there are basically two types of public policy wrongful termination cases: (1) those where a person is fired for fulfilling a societal obligation, and (2) those where an employee is fired because he or she pursues his or her private statutory rights. The Court distinguished these sorts of case from cases where a fired employee does not have a right to sue for wrongful termination because there is already an existing remedy that protects the interest of society.
Another important part of the analysis is that you have to actually be able to show that there is a public policy in place that is being violated by your being fired. Often times statutes will include specific statements of public policy. Other times, while a statute may not say, “It is the policy of the State of Oregon…” it may very well imply that such a policy exists.
HKM Employment Attorneys LLP Can Help You Today
Were you recently fired? Do you think the reason that you were fired for is one that violates public policy? If so, you should contact the experienced employment law attorneys at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP. We regularly handle wrongful termination cases and can review your case to see if you may have a claim against your former employer. Our phone number is (503)389-1130, or you can contact us online by filling out our this form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.