There are two major misconceptions that employee have about the protections afforded employees under Ohio’s employment laws.
The first deals with unemployment compensation and that misconception is dealt with elsewhere in this website. The second deals with the notion that an employer has to have “just cause” to terminate an employee and therefore a lawsuit can be prosecuted when the employee can prove the employer was “wrong.”
In Ohio, because of the “at-will” employment doctrine, an employer can be held to account for a “wrongful discharge” only when the act of terminating the employee also implicates the employer’s violation of “public policy.”
One way to look at it is this … an employer may discharge an at-will employee as long as (1) a specific statute or contractual privilege does not permit the discharge under certain circumstances or (2) the employer, in terminating the employee, seeks to do something public policy prohibits or seeks to get away with not doing something public policy requires.
Violation of discrimination laws, statutes prohibiting certain forms of retaliation, breach of contract, claims for promissory estoppel, and claims for fraud are addressed elsewhere in this website. As for claims that an employer has violated “public policy,” the discharged employee must bear in mind that the “public policy” must be found in statutes, regulations, or well-defined precedent rooted in case law where a specific statute does not otherwise give the employee recourse.
A classic example of “wrongful termination” is the first case that recognized an at-will employee’s right to sue when public policy stood to be compromised if the discharge were not reversed. In that case, an employer hit with a garnishment order in a child support decree did not like the provision warning that the employer could be held liable if it did not attach its employee’s wages each week in the amount specified in the order. The employee did not want to run that risk and terminated the employee rather than comply with the court’s order. The Supreme Court of Ohio realized that the ability of a court to enforce its child support order would be compromised if employers were able to “veto” such an order simply by firing an employee named in the order. The “tort” of wrongful discharge therefore came into being, and no employer can avoid the dictates of “public policy” simply by invoking its rights under the “at-will” employment doctrine.
The Law Offices of S. David Worhatch deals with wrongful termination cases on a weekly basis. Call David Worhatch to see if you may have a wrongful discharge claim.
As these are “tort” claims, the law treats a wrongful discharge case as if it were a personal injury case, meaning that a wrongfully discharged employee is not limited to seeking mere reinstatement with back pay and the restoration of all benefits and rights of tenure. In addition, a wrongfully terminated employee may seek damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, sleepless nights, inconvenience, the costs of looking for other work, loss of the joys of living, loss of consortium, love, society, and companionship of one’s spouse or life partner, embarrassment, humiliation, and other losses of a “non-economic” nature.