Hoyle: The best way to avoid workplace complaints? Be proactive
At a time when workplace protections are being stalled or rolled back at the federal level, Oregon is showing there's a smarter, more effective way to help businesses and support workers. Here in Oregon, we know that proactive business outreach is good for employees and employers alike.
Every day, Oregon's Bureau of Labor & Industries enforces laws and civil rights safeguards aimed at protecting our most vulnerable workers. But the reality is that some of our agency's most important work happens before a worker ever files a complaint.
A cornerstone of our approach is working with businesses around the state to help them navigate complex — and frequently changing — workplace rules to avoid violations before they occur. That means providing employers large and small with timely, accurate information, from how to handle final paychecks to understanding sick time to digging into the details of equal pay.
Employers should know that there's a clear firewall between compliance experts with the Technical Assistance program and the two major enforcement divisions. Employers can ask anything — and they do — without fear of triggering an investigation. When businesses pick up the phone, they can have frank conversations wholly separate from other parts of the agency.
When we drive down the number of complaints, it's better for everyone. It's better for employers, it's better for workers, and it's better for taxpayers who pay for each investigation. The approach is also rooted in our agency's founding mission from more than a century ago: to serve as a liaison between businesses and workers.
As I travel the state, few businesses I talk to want to see us join the race to the bottom. They want to do right by their workers, and they deserve our support when they're trying to figure out the law. We're committed to giving them the tools they need and a level playing field on which to compete.
For the past nine months, I've worked to expand the reach of our Technical Assistance for Employers program, so businesses can get the information they need, when they need it. We've increased our webinars. We've taken our seminars on the road so that we're engaging with employers beyond the Portland metro area. And this November, we're planning for a comprehensive employment law conference that will offer a deep dive into the compliance issues businesses care about most.
Technical Assistance will host its 35th Employment Law Conference in Portland this November, but it's important that we deliver services to businesses throughout the state. When I first took office, I was surprised to learn that it's been more than 20 years since we had any agency staff east of the Cascades. That had to change. That's why we are now — thanks to the legislature's investment — hiring a new eastern Oregon position to provide assistance to business and to expand apprenticeship opportunities.
I'm excited about the prospect of helping more employers in rural areas get the support they need while building a well-trained, highly skilled workforce beyond the Willamette Valley. From John Day to Burns to Lakeview, I hear the same thing: "We have good jobs here, but where are the skilled workers?" We're on it.
Nine months into this position, I'm loving this job. It's an honor to serve our agency's mission while modernizing operations. By prioritizing proactive employer outreach, we can better serve businesses and workers while building a stronger, more equitable economy for everyone.
Val Hoyle is commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries.
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