Practice Areas


"After more than two decades with a company, I was terminated.  I spent several months going through various legal processes to get my job back.  When all of this failed, I contacted Liz.  From the start, she was compassionate, caring, understanding, and very knowledgeable.  She was my last hope, giving me the ability of restoring my livelihood and taking care of my family.  I will be forever thankful for what she has done for me!"...Leslie

Practice Areas

Wrongful Termination/Discharge:

Oregon, like most states, is an at-will employment state, which means that, unless an individual has an employment contract, he/she may be terminated (or discharged) at any time, for any reason, for no reason, or even for a false reason.  The only time a termination is wrongful in the eyes of the law is if an employee has been terminated because of his/her membership to a legally protected category.  These categories include:

  1. Gender (includes sexual harassment and pregnancy)
  2. Race
  3. National Origin
  4. Age (40+ under federal law and 18+ under state law)
  5. Disability (physical and mental)
  6. Religion
  7. Worker’s Compensation/Injured Worker
  8. Family Medical Leave
  9. Complaints about Illegal Behavior

There may also be a legal claim for wrongful termination in cases where an employee is terminated because he/she has exercised a job-related right of important public interest (such as resisting sexual harassment in the workplace) or has complied with a public duty (such as serving on a jury).

In a wrongful constructive termination/discharge claim, an employee actually chooses to resign from employment because the employer has deliberately created an intolerable work environment, one which a reasonable person would not be able to withstand.  Like a wrongful termination, the conduct must be based upon the employee’s membership to a protected category or because the employee has opposed illegal behavior.  In both wrongful termination and wrongful constructive termination cases, it is not enough that the employer just did not like the employee or that there was a personality conflict.

Depending on the specific facts of a case, there are federal and state statutes, as well as common law claims, which prohibit wrongful termination and wrongful constructive termination.  Typically, these laws provide monetary relief in the form of lost wages and benefits of employment, mental anguish, and attorney’s fees and costs.  In some cases, there may also be punitive damages awarded.

Discrimination and Harassment:

Discrimination and harassment are legally actionable only when they are based upon an individual’s membership to a protected category.  There are several protected categories, some of which are protected under both state and federal law.  The most well known of these categories are:

  1. Gender (includes sexual harassment and pregnancy)
  2. Race
  3. National Origin
  4. Age (40+ under federal law and 18+ under state law)
  5. Disability (physical and mental)
  6. Religion
  7. Worker’s Compensation/Injured Worker
  8. Family Medical Leave

Under Oregon State law, there is also protection for the following categories:

  1. Marital Status
  2. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
  3. Expunged Juvenile Record
  4. Family Relationship
  5. Veterans or Military Member Status
  6. Child Support Garnishment

The fact that an employee is treated unfairly or differently than his/her co-workers (discriminated against), or hassled, intimidated, or badgered (harassed) at work, does not necessarily mean that the employee has a legal claim.  The treatment must be because of the above categories in order to be illegal discrimination or harassment.   

Sexual Harassment:

Sexual harassment (a form of gender discrimination) involves unwelcome sexual conduct.  The conduct may be sexually-based comments, advances or physical contact, as well as promises for advancement in exchange for sexual favors. 

Hostile Work Environment:

Discrimination or harassment which is severe and pervasive (frequently occurring) creates a hostile work environment and is legally actionable.  Generally, an isolated remark or action, albeit discriminatory or harassing on its face, is not sufficient to prove the existence of a hostile work environment.  The discrimination and/or harassment must be based upon the employee’s membership to a legally protected category, such as gender, race, national origin, age, disability, or religion.


It is illegal for an employer to treat an employee poorly, or retaliate against, an employee who reports unlawful behavior.  Employees have a right to work in an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment, as well as a duty to report illegal behavior to their employers.  Retaliation comes in many forms, ranging from termination to changing an employee’s schedule or job duties to less desirable ones to demotion to poor performance reviews, and is only legally actionable if it is in response to a complaint or report of illegal behavior, such as race discrimination or sexual harassment.  If an employee complains to his/her employer about behavior which is not illegal (e.g., a conflict with a co-worker about the person’s management style) and is then treated poorly, there is no legal claim for retaliation.  Employees who report unlawful behavior do not need to prove that the behavior was, in fact, illegal in order to prevail on a claim for retaliation.  As long as the reporting employee believed, at the time of the report and in good faith, that the behavior was illegal, the employee is protected from retaliation for having made the complaint. 

Family and Medical Leave Laws:

The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the Oregon Family Leave Act (“OFLA”) provide job protection for qualified employees who need to take time off of work for the birth of a child; to treat his/her serious health condition; or, to care for a family member with a serious health condition.  In order to qualify for medical leave under FMLA, an employee must have worked for an employer (with fifty or more employees) for, at least, 1,250 hours in the twelve months preceding the medical leave.  In order to qualify for medical leave under OFLA, an employee must only have worked for an employer (with twenty-five or more employees) for an average of twenty-five hours per week in the 180 days preceding the medical leave.

FMLA and OFLA each entitle an employee to take twelve weeks off of work per calendar year.  Individuals who qualify under both FMLA and OFLA are most often limited to a total of twelve weeks; however, there are some circumstances under which an employee may take more than twelve weeks per year.  The time off of work for medical leave does not need to be consecutive and, often, is intermittent or as needed, depending on the specific reason(s) for the leave.

Serious health conditions include medical conditions which require inpatient care or constant or continuing care, as well as critical or terminal illnesses.  They also include absences for pregnancy related-disability and prenatal care and any illness which causes three or more consecutive days of incapacity and involves treatments by a health care provider.  The following illnesses generally do not qualify as serious health conditions, which are covered under FMLA or OFLA: colds, flus, ear aches, sore throats, and routine medical visits.

Employees who qualify for medical leave under FMLA and/or OFLA need to provide their employers with thirty days of advance written notice for any medical leave which is anticipated.  In unanticipated or emergency situations, employees should provide their employers with notice as soon as possible. 

Both FMLA and OFLA protect employees from interference with the right to take medical leave and from discrimination or retaliation for exercising this right.  Under FMLA, an employer is required to reinstate an employee returning from medical leave to either the same position he/she held when the leave began or to an equivalent position - one that is virtually identical to the former position in terms of pay, benefits, job duties, and working conditions.  Under OFLA (which is the default law followed in the event that the employee qualifies for protection under both FMLA and OFLA), an employer must return the employee to the exact position that the employee held when his/her leave began, regardless of whether the job has been filled during the employee’s absence.  The only exception to this rule occurs when the job has been eliminated, in which case the employee must be restored to an equivalent position.

Worker’s Compensation/Injured Worker Discrimination:

It is illegal for any employer (with six or more employees) to discriminate or retaliate against an employee because that individual has either inquired about or filed a worker’s compensation claim or because that individual has testified in a worker’s compensation hearing.  Injured workers have extensive rights with respect to reinstatement into their former positions, as well as re-employment in available and suitable work.


It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate (terminate, demote, suspend, or other unfair treatment) or retaliate against an employee for reporting illegal activity to an outside agency; for cooperating with any law enforcement agency with respect to a criminal investigation; for bringing a civil proceeding against the employer; or, for testifying at a trial. Generally,  the employee must make the report to an outside agency, not just to the employer, in order to have a whistleblower claim.  In cases involving complaints or reports of illegal behavior made exclusively to the employer, the employee will, oftentimes, have a claim for retaliation.  There are federal and state laws which protect whistleblowers for reports ranging from safety violations to discrimination based upon race, gender, national origin, age, religion, and disability.

Separation /Severance Agreements:

A separation or severance agreement is a contract between an employer and an employee in which, typically, the employer is offering to provide the employee with some benefits (usually wages) in exchange for the employee’s agreement to release the employer from legal liability.  Although some employers provide severance agreements to all employees who are leaving employment, there is no legal requirement to do so, and it is not, in fact, the most typical scenario.  When reviewing a severance agreement, it is critical to evaluate whether the agreement is fair, legal, and protective of the employee’s rights.  Additionally, it is important to make certain that the severance agreement is in line with the employer’s typical practice.

There are circumstances under which severance agreements provide a useful means of extricating an employee from an unpleasant, hostile, or discriminatory work place.  The agreement works as an assurance to the employer that the employee will not pursue legal action and as a means for the employee to transition out of his/her job while maintaining some security (both financial and otherwise).

Non-Compete Agreements:

A non-compete (non-competition) agreement is contract in which an employee agrees not to compete against his/her employer after the employment relationship ends.  Sometimes, non-compete agreements include non-solicitation clauses as well, which, depending upon the language of the specific agreement, forbid the employee from soliciting customers or clients of the employer or from encouraging other employees to leave employment and come work for the employee. 

In Oregon, non-compete agreements are strictly governed by statute.  Depending upon when an agreement was signed, there are different regulations which apply.  Non-compete agreements signed prior to January 1, 2008, are governed by the old statute which required the agreement to be signed either at the beginning of employment, or, if later, in exchange for some valuable consideration in the form of a bona-fide advancement or bonus.  The old statute also required non-compete agreements to be reasonable in terms of time and scope (geographical region) and that the restriction involved a protectable interest. 

The new statute, which applies to all non-compete agreements signed on or after January 1, 2008, is far more protective of employeesIt requires the employer to provide written communication of the non-compete agreement to the employee at least two weeks prior to the first day of work, or, in the case of a non-compete agreement which is entered into after the beginning of employment, the employer must provide the employee with a bona-fide advancement.  The agreement must not exceed two years, and, generally, the employee must fall into a specific category, such as an administrative, executive, or professional individual who has discretion and exercises independent judgment and is paid a salary.  Like the old statute, there must also be a protectable interest of the employer, such as the employee’s access to trade secrets of confidential business information.  Finally, the statute requires that the employee’s annual gross salary, at the time of termination, must exceed the median family income for a family of four.

If an agreement does not comply with the applicable statutory requirements, it may not be enforceable.

Employment Contracts:

Some employees have employment contracts which outline the specific terms of employment.  Generally, employees with employment contracts can only be terminated for the reasons specified in the contract, thus removing them from the purview of “at-will” employment.  Occasionally, an employer’s handbook or manual may constitute a contract between the employer and employee. 

Wage and Hour Issues:

Most employees (not independent contractors) are protected by Oregon State and federal laws with respect to wage and hour issues.  Employers are required to abide by minimum wage (different for federal employees) regulations, and, in most cases, to pay overtime (a rate of one and a half times the regular hourly rate of pay for any time worked which exceeds forty hours per week).  Additionally, employers must pay employees for all time worked, including preparing to work, concluding work, attending required training and meetings, and for waiting on the job as long as the time cannot be used effectively for the employee’s personal reasons.

Under Oregon law, covered employees are entitled to ten-minute paid rest periods (or breaks), separate from meal periods, for every four hours of work.  During this time, the employee should be relieved of all work.  Meal periods are required for all employees that work more than six hours and should be at least a half an hour.

Oregon also requires employers to maintain regular paydays and to provide employees with a statement of the amounts and purposes for any deductions from employees’ wages.  Deductions may be made for taxes, as well as for the fair market value of meals and lodging for the employee’s benefit.  Additional deductions may only be made if they are for the employee’s benefit and are authorized by the employee.

When an employee quits a job, he/she should be paid all remaining wages on the last day of work if the employee provides forty-eight or more hours of notice or within five business days if the employee does not provide notice.  If the employee is fired, the employer must pay the employee all of his/her remaining wages no later than the end of the first business day after the termination.