Employers have a lawful obligation to follow certain guidelines when letting go of an employee. Employers may not fire an employee for such discriminatory reasons as the employee’s sex, religion or nation of origin, or for retaliatory purposes. If an employer violates one these laws or breaches the terms of an employment contract, the terminated employee may pursue legal action against the employer.
At-Will Employment in Ohio
Many states, including Ohio, are what are known as at-will employment states. This means that unless an employment contract or other agreement is in place that states otherwise, both the employer and the employee have the right to terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason. However, this does not give an employer the right to terminate an employee in all circumstances, and key exceptions may apply in some situations.
Wrongful Termination in Ohio
Certain exceptions to the at-will employment principle exist under both Ohio and federal law. If an employer fires an employee and one of these exceptional circumstances exists, it would be in violation of the law and the fired employee may take legal action. If the employee’s lawsuit is successful, the employer may be on the hook for the employee’s lost wages, future wages, attorney fees and possibly even damages. In some situations, the employer may be required to reinstate the employee.
Breach of Contract: If an employer and employee have entered into an employment contract that specifically provides for how and when the employee may be fired or leave the position, any breach of that contract could result in a lawsuit. Such a contract may set forth a specified length of employment or allow for termination only in the case of just cause. Generally, just cause means the employee has failed to meet the employer’s reasonable expectations in some way, like failing to show up to work for several days in a row or repeated poor job performance. Once a contract has been entered into, however, the employer has to adhere to its terms. Employers should note that Ohio law also allows for implied contracts, including policies in employee handbooks and other written or oral expressions of a company’s policies.
Discrimination: Both state and federal prohibit employers from terminating employees for discriminatory reasons. Discrimination based on the employee’s race, religion, sex, military status, sexual orientation or other protected class is prohibited under the law and may result in legal action against the employer. In addition, an employer cannot terminate a worker upon learning the employee has a disability.
Retaliation: Employees are also protected by state and federal laws against retaliation from an employer. Examples of retaliation include an employer firing a worker for engaging in union activities or for testifying or assisting in an investigation against the employer.
“Whistleblowing” is also considered a protected activity in Ohio, and an employer may not fire a worker for bringing certain practices to light. Protected actions include reporting such things as illegal activities, unsafe working conditions, violations of environmental laws, and abuse or neglect of residents at a health-care facility. It is important to note that the employee’s suspicion of an illegal activity is enough to afford them protection as long as it is reasonable. If the allegation turns out not to be true, the employee’s job is still protected under the law.
Public Policy: The public policy exception prevents an employer from firing an at-will employee if it would violate certain public policies. Some actions, such as serving on a jury, are considered important public functions. Since an employee participating in such an action is considered beneficial to society, an employer may not use it as a reason to terminate the worker’s employment. Another example would be firing an employee for filing for worker’s compensation. Since affording employees the right to worker’s compensation is a public policy, employers cannot to fire an employee for asserting that right.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.