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Wrongful termination?

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Hello,

I know Oregon is a right to work state so I am not sure what can be done about this issue.  My son was working at his current place of employment since he graduated from college and had been promoted and was really good at his job.  A few days ago he was called into the office and shown a post on craigslist that said awful things about the business and about a few employees.  It was written very unintelligently and did not sound like him whatsoever.  There were a few uneducated unskilled workers who had been fired a while back and he felt it was likely one of them. 

My son by nature is a very honest and conscientious individual who would never do such a thing.  He explained to his employer that he would never do that, he likes his job, and even logged into to his craigslist account to show his boss that the post was not associated with his account.  He said his boss then began to threaten him physically and tell him he should take him out back and beat him up, other employees were allowed in the room and everyone began verbally attacking him.  At this point he began to feel fearful that they might actually physically harm him.  He was fired. He is extremely confused as to how you could be fired for something that there was no proof you did and even more so for the unprofessional way with which it was handled. He has no idea where to start or if there is anything to do. Any advice is appreciated, thank you.

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The phrase “right to work” means that an employee cannot be forced to join a union in order to get a job. What matters here instead is that Oregon, like every other state except Montana, is a state that follows a modified “at will” employment doctrine. Employment at will means that both the employer and the employee are free to terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason. No state today has pure at will employment because federal and state laws now prohibit the employer from terminating an employee for certain specific reasons. The prohibited reasons include firing you because:

  • of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, or genetic test information under federal law (some states/localities add a few more categories like sexual orientation);
  • you make certain kinds of reports about the employer to the government or in limited circumstances to specified persons in the employing company itself (known as whistle-blower protection laws);
  • you participate in union organizing activities;
  • you use a right or benefit the law guarantees you (e.g. using leave under FMLA);
  • you filed a bankruptcy petition;
  • your pay was garnished by a single creditor; and
  • you took time off work to attend jury duty (in most states).

The exact list of prohibited reasons will vary by state. What this means is that his termination was not wrongful as that term is used in the law unless the reason for his termination was something like one of the things I listed above. If the employer believed that your son had posted nasty things about the business online that termination would not be wrongful even if the employer turns out to be wrong about that belief. All that matters is that the reason the employer had was not one of the reasons that the law prohibits, like those I listed above.

 

If your son was employed by a government agency then civil service rules might offer more protection. If your son was a member of union with a collective bargaining agreement with the employer then perhaps that agreement provides him with more protection. Otherwise, unless your son can show that some prohibited reason was the real reason he was fired he will not have a good wrongful termination case. He may want to review all the details of what happened with an employment law attorney to see if he has any sort of recourse here.

 

He certainly should, at the very least, promptly file for unemployment benefits.

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I know Oregon is a right to work state so I am not sure what can be done about this issue.

 

What would make you think Oregon's status as such has anything to do with the situation you described?  Was your son's former employer a party to a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union that your son could have joined but chose not to join and, if so, does he believe that might have been the real reason he was fired?

 

 

 

A few days ago he was called into the office and shown a post on craigslist that said awful things about the business and about a few employees.  It was written very unintelligently and did not sound like him whatsoever. . . .  My son by nature is a very honest and conscientious individual who would never do such a thing.  He explained to his employer that he would never do that. . . .

 

Did someone accuse your son of having done this?

 

 

 

He is extremely confused as to how you could be fired for something that there was no proof you did

 

How?  Obviously, we have no idea how the termination was done (beyond what you told us), but I assume his (former) boss told him, "you're fired," or something to that effect.  Your son certainly knows how it was done.  As far as there being "no proof," I'd be willing to bet that your son's former boss had at least some evidence that your son did this.  Whether the evidence was credible or whether it would have persuaded anyone other than the boss obviously isn't something we can know.

 

 

 

He has no idea where to start or if there is anything to do.

 

He should start looking for a new job and can submit an unemployment claim.

 

If your intent was to ask whether anything legally wrongful occurred, the answer is no.

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The phrase “right to work” means that an employee cannot be forced to join a union in order to get a job. What matters here instead is that Oregon, like every other state except Montana, is a state that follows a modified “at will” employment doctrine. Employment at will means that both the employer and the employee are free to terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason. No state today has pure at will employment because federal and state laws now prohibit the employer from terminating an employee for certain specific reasons. The prohibited reasons include firing you because:

  • of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, or genetic test information under federal law (some states/localities add a few more categories like sexual orientation);
  • you make certain kinds of reports about the employer to the government or in limited circumstances to specified persons in the employing company itself (known as whistle-blower protection laws);
  • you participate in union organizing activities;
  • you use a right or benefit the law guarantees you (e.g. using leave under FMLA);
  • you filed a bankruptcy petition;
  • your pay was garnished by a single creditor; and
  • you took time off work to attend jury duty (in most states).

The exact list of prohibited reasons will vary by state. What this means is that his termination was not wrongful as that term is used in the law unless the reason for his termination was something like one of the things I listed above. If the employer believed that your son had posted nasty things about the business online that termination would not be wrongful even if the employer turns out to be wrong about that belief. All that matters is that the reason the employer had was not one of the reasons that the law prohibits, like those I listed above.

 

If your son was employed by a government agency then civil service rules might offer more protection. If your son was a member of union with a collective bargaining agreement with the employer then perhaps that agreement provides him with more protection. Otherwise, unless your son can show that some prohibited reason was the real reason he was fired he will not have a good wrongful termination case. He may want to review all the details of what happened with an employment law attorney to see if he has any sort of recourse here.

 

He certainly should, at the very least, promptly file for unemployment benefits.

 

Thank you!  That was very helpful. We were not sure if any of it was actually illegal and it was helpful, and excuse me for confusing the terms "at will" and "right to work".   I did, however, just find out that the employer hired my son and paid him in cash!  He was apparently paying him under the table this entire time, which I did not know about.  He will file taxes on his income earned but being fresh out of school was not aware this was not an acceptable practice.  Good lord this just gets better and better.  Unemployment, is not an option, he will need to be far more selective about his future employers. 

 

 

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Cash is still a legal tender. Plenty of employers pay in cash. Cash is not the same as under the table. If your son was truly an employee, then the employer would need to be taking taxes out and making tax payments on those wages. You have no way of knowing if that occurred or not. It could be that the employer was not doing this and your son did not qualify as an independent contractor but there aren't enough details in your post to say one way or the other.

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My son said the employer specifically said he was paying him "under the table".  It could be the term was just used loosely, I have no idea.  This has been interesting and informative, we have decided since no one was hurt other than feelings it is best to simply move on.

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