Ohio operates under “at-will” employment principles, meaning that most employers and employees can terminate employment for any reason or no reason, at any time, with or without prior notice.
There are exceptions:
For “at-will” employees, however, S. David Worhatch Attorney at Law in Stow, OH, can help you determine if you still may have recourse by way of an action for wrongful termination. I am an experienced advocate for the rights of employees in the work setting offering the following examples of how employers may violate the law in firing situations.
If you simply disagree with management’s assessment of your performance or you dispute the reason give by your employer to fire you, most likely Ohio law will not come to your rescue.
“Wrongful termination” (sometimes called “wrongful discharge”) in Ohio does not mean the employee was “wronged” by management’s action, judgment, or decision. No court will interfere with an employer’s exercise of its business judgment, no matter how questionable such judgment may be in your mind or the minds of others, unless the employer engages in an act of employment discrimination.
Instead, for there to be a case of “wrongful termination,” the employer’s conduct must amount to a violation of “public policy,” as articulated by a federal or state statute, regulation, or court decision.
“Public policy” in this context generally means a set of goals, aspirations, or standards of conduct underlying or prompting enactment of a statute, the implementation of a regulation, or a court’s declaration of what can or cannot be done in a civil society.
Think of it this way …
By firing you, is your employer trying to get away with doing something the law prohibits or otherwise trying to avoid doing something the law requires.
The classic example is the case that started it all … where an employer fired one of its employees when it was served with a garnishment order for payment of court-ordered child support. When the employer saw that the order said that the employer would be liable itself if management ever failed to take the required amount out of its employee’s paycheck, the owner of the company fired his employee so his company would avoid any mistakes that could result in exposure to the company. The employee sued for “wrongful termination” on the grounds that his boss effectively was saying that he can ignore a court order and frustrate the object of Ohio’s laws governing child support by denying the court the opportunity to enforce child support obligations through garnishment orders, as provided by the state legislature. The Supreme Court ruled in the employee’s favor, declaring that no at-will employer in the State of Ohio can fire an employee under conditions that would condone a violation of “public policy.”
So, what are some practical examples of an employer’s attempt to violate “public policy” by terminating the services of an at-will employee?
Employers cannot fire employees for exercising their legal or employment rights. Illegal reasons for firing workers include such actions as serving jury duty, taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), serving in the National Guard, bringing a charge of employment discrimination, filing a worker’s compensation claim, and reporting Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) violations. Nor can an employer discourage employees from helping co-workers to engage in such conduct in protection of their own rights, such as by agreeing to testify in support of the co-worker against the employer in an unemployment compensation claim or providing a sworn statement in support of an employment discrimination claim.
Employees are not required to condone illegal or immoral behavior in the work setting as a condition to keeping their jobs. In fact, many options are available to employees to report illegal behavior to law enforcement and immoral conduct to management personnel. When an employer gets wind of such a report or even fears that making such a report is imminent, sometimes management will undertake to fire the “whistleblower” rather than deal with the issue … almost as a way to send a message to all other employees that “rocking the boat” will not be tolerated. The same could happen if an employee figures out that the company is defrauding its customers or vendors and fires an employee for refusing to “go along” or “play ball” as a “team player.”
“Public policy” in Ohio is to shield employees against the risk of termination under these sorts of circumstances. No employee is ever required to expose himself or herself to the risk of personal civil or criminal liability for the sake of hanging on to a steady paycheck.
Though a claim in this area is a bit more difficult to navigate, there is support for the proposition that an employee who stands up for his or her rights to avoid personal or emotional injury by threatening to take his or her employer to court, or actually doing so, also can bring a claim for “wrongful termination” if the employer fires him or her as a result.
Employees have a right to work free from sexual harassment and unwanted advances. Workers fired for rejecting sexual overtures from a coworker, supervisor, or employer may have federal and state law claims. Most often, women are the victims of such wrongful conduct, but increasingly these unwanted advances come from women in supervisory positions who express an interest in male employees on staff … and even from same-sex supervisors interested in pursuing a homosexual liaison with an employee of his or her own gender.
Individuals can pursue remedies for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and civil assault and battery. Wrongful discharge may also occur when an employee reports such conduct on behalf of a coworker and the employer retaliates by firing one or both individuals.
An employee fired while working under an employment contract should consult an employment lawyer for a review of a possible breach of contract claim. Even if there is no contract, however, the employer might have violated company policy or procedures in carrying out the firing under circumstances allowing for recourse under such theories as “promissory estoppel,” breach of implied contract, or “unjust enrichment.” Reviewing all of these circumstances with an employee rights attorney may confirm that you would have recourse in respect of such violations.