What constitutes “wrongful discharge” or “wrongful termination” in Ohio?

Many of our clients are outraged by the way in which their employers callously disregard their employees in dismissing them without cause because Ohio’s “at-will” employment doctrine allows them to do just that.

A select number of our clients are able to take advantage of the claim of “wrongful discharge” or “wrongful termination.” In Ohio, an employer exercising rights under the “employment-at-will” doctrine nevertheless can be held liable for a “wrongful discharge” if the employer’s conduct in terminating its “at-will” employee effectively amounts to a violation of some federal or state law or regulation spelling out an important public policy in this state.

The easiest way I can explain this to my clients is to think about “wrongful discharge” cases in terms of answering this question: In terminating the employee, did the employer try to get away with something the law otherwise prohibits, or did the employer try to avoid doing something the law otherwise requires?

The classic example of a valid claim for “wrongful discharge” is the case of the divorced employee who was ordered to pay child support and to have his wages garnished to cover that obligation. When the garnishment order was received, the employer decided to fire the “at-will” employee instead of being inconvenienced by having to garnish wages and pay them over to the court and run the risk that the employer would have to cover any shortage if a mistake was made in calculating the exact amount to be taken or in administering the garnishment process for the benefit of the employee’s ex-spouse and children.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that such an “at-will” employee cannot be fired under these circumstances, because the public’s interest in an efficient and effective child support system cannot be undermined by the act of an employer in firing an “at-will” employee who has to have his or her wages garnished as the court’s way of making sure the child support payments were made.

An experienced employee rights attorney can evaluate your circumstances against this principle of Ohio law and let you know whether your claim might qualify for protection under Ohio’s “wrongful discharge” or “wrongful termination” doctrine. If you feel you have been wrongfully discharged, contact us to see how we can help your case.