Students learn workers’ rights

What to know before you start punching that timecard

Do you know your rights as an employee in Oregon?

How about what your employer can and cannot do with your wages?

What to know before you start punching that timecard

Do you know your rights as an employee in Oregon?

Corinna Scott/VANGUARD STAFf

Huzaifa Suddiqui, an intern for PSU’s Student Legal Services, led the workers’ rights discussion.

How about what your employer can and cannot do with your wages?

Students gathered in the Smith Memorial Student Union Thursday afternoon for an informational session about Oregon’s wage and hour laws hosted by Portland State’s Student Legal Services.

Lynn Clark, staff attorney for SLS, said it’s important to inform students before they begin working so they aren’t taken advantage of.

“People often don’t approach us for help until after a problem has started,”
Clark said.

SLS staff reviewed many practical examples of what workers and employers can expect from one another in Oregon.

For example, there are only a couple of instances in which an employer is not obligated to pay minimum wage. This includes if you’re if you’re an independent contractor, an intern or a volunteer.

corinna scott/VANGUARD STAFf

Lynn Clark, staff attorney at PSU’s Student Legal Services, explained workers’ rights at a Thursday session.

The federal minimum wage is lower than Oregon’s minimum wage, so employers are obligated to pay all employees at least $8.80 per hour.

In January 2013, the minimum wage will increase to $8.95 per hour, which is adjusted for inflation.

“Oregon has the second-highest minimum wage in the country. If and when the state and federal wages conflict, the employer is obligated to pay whichever one is more beneficial to the employee,” Huzafia Siddiqui, an intern with SLS, said.

It’s illegal in Oregon for a restaurant to pay its employees the federal tip credit, which is $2.13 an hour, and then force them to rely on tips for the rest of their wages.

“The restaurant industry is probably where we see the vast majority of students come in with complaints about wage and hour issues, because restaurants sometimes pay in cash instead of checks, sometimes they pay under the table. And sometimes the end result is that the person is being paid less than what they’re entitled to,” Clark said.

If a student at PSU finds himself in a position in which he feels his employer skimped on his paycheck, he can use the the SLS to file a wage claim. Doing so offers the employer a chance to pay the employee, or the employee can choose to take further action.

With unpaid internships, it can be easy for an employer to take advantage of a student, SLS staff said. Internships must have an educational focus and last a fixed length of time. There can’t be any expectation of employment at the end, or, as Clark said, “that job that they draw you in as a carrot on a stick saying, ‘Work for us for a certain amount of time for free, and then we’ll hire you.’”

What most students probably aren’t aware of is that an employer can require that you work overtime, SLS staff said. When you work overtime—meaning more than 40 hours a week if you’re a full-time employee—you receive one-and-a-half times the regular wage. Your employer doesn’t need to give advance notice to require you to stay later, but does need to pay you at the overtime rate.

Employees are entitled to a paid 10-minute break every four hours. Every six hours, the employer is obligated to let the employee take a 30-minute lunch break.

Finally, paychecks cannot be withheld from an employee as punishment and should never be a hardship for the employee to claim.

Lukas Brewington-Janssen, a sophomore who’s working with the SLS as an intern this fall, assists the attorneys, takes notes and does research for the different files and cases that come up in the office. He explained why this lecture was so important.

“I found a lot of the info regarding wages important—and the info about breaks and what we’re entitled to. Most people don’t know this stuff.”

Clark said students should know that the SLS offers free services to students. The only exceptions could be court fees, litigation costs or other court-related fees.