In June of 2019, Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, signed a sweeping harassment bill into law. The Oregon Workplace Fairness Act includes the following changes: all employers in Oregon must have a written harassment policy, non-disclosure agreements are now significantly limited, the statute of limitations will go from one to five years for discrimination and harassment claims, and employers must promptly follow up with and document any claims.

This new law indicates a changing tide for harassment claims, in which governments are becoming much less lenient. Whether you’re in Oregon or across the country, it’s prudent to be proactive, as this legislation is likely to become more and more common. Here’s what the Oregon law means for you, and what your company can do about it.

A Written Harassment Policy is Required

It has always been good practice to have a written harassment policy, and with movements like #MeToo, it is a liability to go without one. Oregon’s law simply confirms that. According to JD Supra, Oregon requires that harassment policies must:

  • Outline the process for employees to report discrimination and harassment.
  • Identify who will receive complaints.
  • Mention the new five-year statute of limitations; which was previously only one year.
  • Disclose that employers and employees can choose to opt out of signing an NDA.
  • State that employees and managers should document incidents thoroughly.

So what does this all mean? Essentially, Oregon requires much more than a simple open-door or zero tolerance policy. It requires that if an employee is harassed, that employee knows how to report, understands what will happen, and will receive a proper investigation. Even if your state doesn’t have this legislation, it’s smart to have a harassment policy that is as clear as what Oregon requires.

The New Restrictions on Non-Disclosure Agreements

Common practice used to be that if an employee was harassed, the company would simply settle with the employee for undisclosed (but often astronomical) sums, and the employee could never talk about it again. We only need to look at people like Bill O’Reilly to understand why that’s an ineffective strategy. While non-disclosure agreements can be used to proactively protect trade secrets, they can also be used to silence victims and multiply liability for organizations.

With the new legislation, employees can still choose to sign an NDA, but “choose” is the key word. Employers cannot attempt to force employees into an NDA for their benefit, but if the employee feels more safely anonymous with an NDA, it’s still within their rights to request one.

By limiting non-disclosure acts, Oregon is forcing employers to handle harassment claims more thoroughly, in a way that will promote a culture of openness and accountability.

The Statute of Limitations for Harassment Claims Has Increased

In the past, employees only had one year to file harassment or discrimination complaints to Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries or a legal court. Now, they have five years. This is good for victims of discrimination and harassment, as it can take more than a year for an employee to come forward. 

There’s a strong possibility that harassment claims will increase with the longer statute of limitations, and it means that employers will need to keep records of harassment for much longer, in case of any litigation. 

Overall, this is good news for employees. A longer statute of limitations will increase employers’ motivation to handle harassment claims properly. If you take proper action on harassment claims internally, you won’t have to worry about external claims.

How HR Can Navigate the Oregon Workplace Fairness Act

FirstVoice offers a solution for all of these new requirements, and more. It acts both as a harassment claim intake center, a platform for managing claims and is completely compliant with the Oregon Workplace Fairness Act.

To learn more about FirstVoice, visit our website or give us a call at 1-833-508-6423.

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