As Ohio wrongful termination lawyers, We often receive calls regarding wrongful termination when it is often not the case. In the absence of an employment contract, Ohio is an at-will employment state meaning that employers or employees may terminate their employment relationship at any time and for any reason or no reason at all, but employers cannot terminate employees for unlawful reasons (this is why I prefer the term unlawful termination). Employment at will is the default employer-employee relationship and is applicable to the vast majority of employees.
So why is wrongful termination a misnomer? It’s confusing for employees because they think (i) I can prove that my employer’s reason for terminating me is wrong so I can sue my employer; or (ii) wrong is the equivalent of unfair so my employer’s wrong (unfair) treatment of me means I can sue my employer. It’s easy to see why one would conclude they have a case in either of the previous instances based upon a literal translation of the term. Complicating matters further, when the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services/Unemployment Compensation Review Commission review an employees eligibility for unemployment benefits they often issue confusing rulings that award unemployment benefits and state that the claimant’s termination was wrong or without just cause. Undoubtedly, this renews an employee’s view that the employer was wrong or otherwise convinces many employees they have a case for wrongful termination.
The analyses for whether an employee is entitled to unemployment benefits and whether an employee has sufficient grounds to sue its employer in court are very different. In the unemployment context, an employer must have just cause to support the termination to keep the employee from receiving unemployment benefits. On the other hand, in a lawsuit an employee must prove that they were terminated for an unlawful reason in order to receive compensation and other benefits.
A non-exhausting list of unlawful reasons for an employer to terminate an employee includes: (1) discrimination based upon an employee’s disability (ADA), age (ADEA), sex, pregnancy, race, religion, color, or national origin; (2) retaliation if an employee engages in a protected activity; (3) retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim; (4) whistleblowing about a violation of the law by an employer; (5) to interfere with FMLA leave; among numerous others.
In addition to laws which prohibit employers from terminating their employees for defined reasons, there is a “public policy exception” to the employment at will doctrine. In order to be successful in a public policy claim, an employee must show: 1. a clear public policy exists; 2. dismissing employees under circumstances like those in their dismissal jeopardize the public policy; 3. their dismissal was motivated by conduct related to the public policy; and 4. the employer lacked overriding legitimate business justification for the dismissal. See Sells v. Holiday Mgt. Ltd., 10th Dist. Franklin 2011-Ohio-5974 at ¶9 citing Painter v. Graley, 70 Ohio St.3d 377, 384.
Notwithstanding the information contained in this blog, if you believe you have suffered a wrongful termination, meaning been unlawfully terminated, it is advisable to consult with our Ohio wrongful termination lawyers so that they can evaluate whether you have a legal claim. Representation in both the unemployment arena as well as in prosecuting a claim in court is very helpful because navigating either alone is not easy. Feel free to contact Coffman Legal, LLC for any questions about the circumstances of your employment and termination with our Ohio employment lawyers by calling 1-614-949-1181 today.