Wrongful Termination Issues in Ohio

As a general rule - in Ohio, you can be fired at any time, for any reason - even if it is a bad reason, or no reason at all - so long as it is not an illegal reason.  Most employees are "at will" employees, subject to this general rule.  Unless you are a government employee, you have signed an employment contract, or you belong to a union, then you are an "at will" employee.

Government Employees

Government employees are not considered "at will" employees.  This is because the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from depriving any person from "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."  The courts have found that government employees have a "property" interest in their jobs, so their jobs cannot be terminated without "due process."  Due process in the termination process means different things in different contexts, but there are procedures that must be followed and there must be good reason for the termination.  Contact an attorney to find out if your termination from a government job was through due process.  

Employment Contracts

If you signed an employment contract with your employer, then this modifies the general rule of "at will" employment.  When you sign a contract, the language of the contract controls your employment relationship.  It is very fact specific in determining whether or not you have a case for wrongful termination when an employment contract is involved, because it depends on the exact language of your contact.  Therefore, it is critically important to get an employment attorney involved to look over your contract.  

Most employers do not hire employees through employment contracts, but most employers do give their employees an employee handbook.  Courts often find the language in an employee handbook to be an enforceable contract.  If the employee handbook lays out certain discipline and termination procedures then courts may hold the employer to those procedures.  However, most employers are privy to the enforceability of employee handbooks and provide a disclaimer in them to avoid their enforcement.  Again, it is important to have an employment attorney look over the handbook to determine if you were wrongfully discharged in violation of the procedures outlined in the employee handbook.

Discriminatory Firings

Employees are protected from being fired for discriminatory reasons through Federal law and State law.  These protective laws are as follows:
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits termination of an employee because of the employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  
  • The Ohio Civil Rights Act, as codified in Ohio Revised Code section 4112.01, prohibits termination of an employee because of the employee's race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry.  
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1964 (ADEA) is a federal law that prohibits age discrimination in employment for individuals over 40 years of age.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity

Constructive Discharge

Most cases for wrongful termination require that the employee actually be fired.  However, there is a doctrine of law known as "Constructive Discharge," which provides that if an employer creates a work environment that is so hostile that an employee has no real alternative but to quit, then the employee's act of quitting can in effect be treated as a firing for wrongful termination purposes.

Remedies

There are a variety of possible remedies if you've been wrongfully terminated.  The remedy depends on what particular law your employer violated by committing a wrongful termination.  If you were discriminated against or terminated from your employment based on your race, color, religion, sex, or national origin then you have a choice to either bring a federal lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or to bring a state law claim under Ohio Revised Code 4112.  If you decide to go the federal lawsuit route, then you must first seek administrative remedies.  This means that you must first report your claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The EEOC will conduct their own investigation and deetermine whether or not there is probable cause that you were discriminated against, and if so, then they will give you a "right to sue" letter, after which you may bring a lawsuit.  If you decide to pursue your employer under the Ohio Civil Rigths Act (ORC 4112), then you could proceed immediately to a civil lawsuit.  

The types of remedies that you may be afforded can differ dramatically - but they range from reinstatement with back pay, lost wages, lost benefits, damages for emotional distress, recovery of attorneys fees, and more.

If you feel that you've been wrongfully terminated and would like to talk to an attorney about what happened to see whether or not you have a case, contact an attorney at Harris & Engler by calling (614) 610-9988.
Columbus Business Law Firm

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