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Ore.: 2014 Legislative Session Wraps Up

By Sean M. Driscoll  3/12/2014
 

Oregon’s legislature convenes a full session only in odd-numbered years. Even-year sessions last only 35 calendar days, so the 2014 legislature that opened for business on Feb. 3 has already closed up shop. While many expected the proponents of statewide mandatory sick leave to advance their cause in this abbreviated session, they chose to stand down, and the employment bills that made it to the governor’s desk are generally noncontroversial.

Veteran Preference in Hiring and Promotion

Effective immediately, House Bill 4023 allows – but does not require – private sector employers to give preference in the hiring and promotion of an applicant or employee who: 1) is actively serving, or who has served, in uniformed service; 2) is the spouse of a veteran who the Department of Veterans Affairs has determined to be permanently and totally disabled as the result of enemy action or a service-related accident; or 3) is the widow or widower of a person who performed service in the uniformed services.

As this new law does not mandate any action, no specific steps are required to comply with it. Nevertheless, employers who may want to exercise veteran preferences would be well-served to notify applicants and current employees in writing, as well as to clearly document the actual application of any veteran preference. As there is always a risk that an applicant or employee not offered a job or promotion may later charge that the decision was discriminatory, where the decision involved a veteran preference, a written notice and clear documentation of the reasons for the selection could reduce the risk of costly litigation

Publication of Employment Appeals Board Decisions

House Bill 4010 makes a minor but welcome change to Oregon’s unemployment laws by requiring the Employment Appeals Board (EAB) to make its decisions available online. For companies or their counsel appealing unemployment decisions, easier access to EAB decisions should expedite research and ultimately allow for more predictable results.

Bailout of Self-Insured Employer Groups

Senate Bill 1558 addressed a narrow but significant issue, that of self-insured groups of employers who are insufficiently funded to pay workers’ compensation claims of their members’ employees. Under this new law, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services will advance money from a government fund to pay the claims of injured workers, but only if the self-insured employer group owing the funds decertifies itself by Sept. 15, 2014. The law implements other steps to further encourage self-decertification and to discourage future groups from forming.

What Can We Expect Next Year?

The 2015 legislative session will be full length, and we expect many of the usual employment law suspects to make an appearance. Here are the more high profile topics expected to receive significant attention.

Paid sick leave. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, every private sector employee working in the city of Portland became entitled to accrue up to 40 hours of sick leave (usually paid sick leave). Bills creating a similar statewide entitlement to sick leave were introduced in 2013, but ultimately fell short of passing. While proponents of statewide sick leave chose not to introduce bills in the abbreviated 2014 session, they are all but certain to pursue legislation in 2015. Employers with employees outside of Portland should pay close attention, as the costs and administrative burdens of the Portland ordinance have already proven to be significant. 

Bullying. Every Oregon legislative session in recent memory has included at least one bill that would prohibit bullying in the workplace and expose employers to liability for employees claiming to have been bullied. We expect the 2015 session to be no different. Workplace bullying is a complex and controversial topic, but given the high profile case of Jonathan Martin in the National Football League this past year, as well as continuing news reports about school bullying, these bills may receive extra attention next year.

Wage equity. The Oregon Council on Civil Rights is a citizen advisory board created by Brad Avakian, the commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI), to advise him about the causes, effects and proposed solutions to unlawful discrimination. In January 2014, the council presented Avakian with its report “Pay Inequality in Oregon,” which recommends public outreach, education and incentives, as well as a number of specific legislative proposals to address gender-based wage equity issues.

The council’s legislative proposals include paid family leave; paid sick time; mandatory paid and/or unpaid time off for children’s activities; a statutory right for employees to request flexibility and predictability in scheduling, and to apply for temporary or permanent changes in work schedules; and subsidized child care. Commissioner Avakian has publicly stated that the council’s findings and recommendations will guide BOLI’s legislative agenda in the coming years, so we should expect to see legislative proposals of the kind recommended by the council, probably starting in 2015.

Sean M. Driscoll is an attorney in the Portland office of Ogletree Deakins, an international labor and employment law firm representing management.

 

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