Oregon Cannabis: Employment Law Issues for Struggling Businesses

We all know the Oregon cannabis industry is struggling. We write often about the causes on a macro level, possible solutions, and what we see as business litigators. We haven’t written much about one of the basic areas of employment law that applies to Oregon marijuana businesses: workers rights to wages and employer responsibilities. As marijuana businesses shutter, employees and employers should pay careful attention to Oregon’s wage laws. This post addresses basic things marijuana employees and employers ought to know about paying wages when employment ends.

No formal contract is required to create an employment relationship

There is no requirement under Oregon law for a formal contract to establish an employment relationship. As long as the ordinary elements of contract formation are present an employment relationship exists. Usually this means that the person for whom the service is performed (employer) agrees to have another perform the service (employee) for a certain remuneration (wages). And where the putative employer has a right of control over the services provided by the putative employee.  Typically this boils down to compensation and right-of-control.

When these elements are present an employer’s promises of wages and benefits are binding. On the flip side, the general rule is that employment is “at-will”. This means that absent some other arrangement, either the employer or employee may terminate the employment contract at any time, for any reason or no reason. This is limited, however, in that an employer cannot terminate the employment contract for certain protected classes (race, religion, national origin, etc.) as established by federal and state law. Oregon also protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Cannabis employees have a right to timely payment upon the termination of employment

Federal and Oregon law provide minimum wage requirements. Employers must pay employees on a regular payday schedule and may not withhold or delay paychecks as a form of discipline.

When an employee resigns, i.e. terminates and at-will employment relationship, all wages earned up through the date of termination are due five days after the employee quits (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays), or at the next regularly scheduled payday, whichever occurs first.

There are strict requirements that apply to the payment of final wages when an employee is are fired, laid off, or quit.

  • If an employee quits with less than 48 hours’ notice (not including weekends and holidays) their paycheck and any wages owed are due within five business days or on the next regular payday, whichever comes first.
  • If an employee quit with at least 48 hours notice, their final check is due on your last day of employment, unless that day is a weekend or a holiday. In that case, their check is due on the next business day.
  • If an employee is let go or fired, their final paycheck is due by the end of the next business day.
  • If an employer and worker mutually agree to terminate the relationship, the check is due by the end of the following business day.

See here for source, BOLI, which is an excellent resource.

There are consequences for cannabis employers if an employee’s final wages are not timely paid

An employment contract may be enforced like any other contract. But employers may be subject to penalties in some situations.

When an employer willfully fails to pay all wages due an employee upon termination, as a penalty the employee’s wages continue from the due date at the same hourly rate for eight hours per day until action is commenced or wages are paid, up to a maximum of 30 calendar days. This civil penalty may not exceed the amount of the unpaid wages unless the employer fails to pay within 12 days after receiving written notice of the failure to pay.

The Oregon Supreme Court has defined “willfully” as nothing more than this: That the person knows what he is doing, intends to do what he is doing, and is a free agent. It does not necessarily imply blame, or any malice or wrongdoing toward the other person.

Employers also ought to be aware of ORS 652.200, which allows employees to seek attorneys’ fees in certain circumstances when the final wages are not timely paid. These costs can quickly approach or exceed the amount of unpaid wages. Courts are authorized to award a “reasonable sum” unless the employee has “willfully” violated the employment contract.

Whether you are an employee of a marijuana business or an employer, keep these basics in mind.

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