In Ohio the general rule for employment is known as “at will.” What that means is an employer may terminate you for any reason or no reason; so long as it is not an unlawful reason. While this at first may seem unfair, as a practical matter you are free to quit at any time too. Said another way, as long as you desire to work for your employer and as long as your employer desires you to work for it, you have a mutually agreeable employment relationship. If you don’t want to work anymore, you quit. If your employer doesn’t want you to work for them anymore, they fired you. The employment relationship is based on the “will” of the parties. Seems fair enough.
However, in the modern workplace the loss of your job can be catastrophic. It generally results in not only a loss of income, but in important benefits such as health insurance. As a consequence, various doctrines have arisen that are exceptions to the “at will” doctrine. As noted above, an employer can still terminate you for any reason or no reason; it just may not be for an unlawful reason. There are several kinds of unlawful reasons for which you may not be terminated despite the doctrine of “at will.”
An employer may not terminate an employee based on an employee’s race, age (over 40), sex, national origin, disability, or religious affiliation. An employer will rarely admit that the reason they terminated an employee was for any illegal reason. Rather, they will have a pretext for terminating the employee even though the real reason is illegal. If you been terminated under circumstances in which you believe your race, age, sex national origin, disability or religious affiliation played a role, please contact me.
If you have a contract with your employer, they may not terminate you except in accordance with the terms of the contract. This contract can be either written or oral. Often the terms of your employment are essentially oral promises that were made to you and upon which you relied. Once promises of been made you, either in writing or orally, the employer must abide by them. For example, your employer tells you that you will receive certain benefits, or a certain promotion, in exchange for doing something, and then summarily terminate you, you have the legal right to enforce that promise.
If your employer has an employee handbook, that is generally not an employment contract. Indeed, virtually all employee handbooks specifically say in the first few pages that this is not an employment agreement. However, if your employer has made some promises to you in the handbook that you relied upon, you may have a basis to object to your termination.
Violation of Public Policy
A rapid area of growth of employment disputes revolves around a violation of public policy. If you’re asked to do something illegal, and refused, that would be a violation of public policy. For example, if your employer insists that you drive faster than the speed limit and terminates you because you refused, that would be a termination in violation of public policy. This is to be distinguished from whistle-blower cases where you report that your employer is doing something illegal and you are terminated in retaliation for blowing the whistle on your employer.
This is merely meant to be a general treatment for potential clients of the area wrongful termination in Ohio. If you have any specific questions, please give me a call.