Wrongful or unfair termination refers to a situation in which an employee is illegally fired from their job. Generally speaking, most employees are at-will employees. What this means is that their employer is legally allowed to terminate their employment at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. Employers cannot fire an employee for any reason that would be considered, even if the employee is considered to be at-will.
This also means that at-will employees are allowed to leave their job, at any time, and for any reason or no reason at all. However, there are laws in place that protect employees. If an employer breaks any of these laws when terminating an employee, it would be considered wrongful termination. The following are some of the most common examples of wrongful or unfair termination:
- Discrimination: If an employer terminates an employee based on their belonging to a protected class, it is discrimination and therefore considered to be wrongful termination;
- Retaliation: Employees who report their employers for workplace violations are legally protected from their employer’s retaliation. Should the employer respond by terminating their employment, it is illegal and therefore wrongful termination;
- Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: This is wrongful termination when the employer terminates the employee for a fabricated reason;
- Violation of Public Policy: This refers to when an employer terminates an employee because they belong to a recognized group or political party; and
- Family or Medical Leave (“FMLA”): Employees needing to take time off for extended medical leave are protected under the FMLA. If an employer terminates an employee because they need to take extended time off for medical reasons, it would likely be considered wrongful termination.
According to Ohio employment laws, Ohio is considered to be an at-will employment state unless explicitly stated in an employee’s contract. Unlawful termination in Ohio looks much like the above discussed definition of wrongful termination. However, there are some exceptions to the general at-will rule.
An example of this would be how, for discriminatory purposes, Ohio employers cannot discriminate based on:
- Marital status;
- AIDS/HIV; and/or
- Sickle cell trait.
Federally, employers cannot fire an employee based on a protected characteristic as previously mentioned. As such, even at-will Ohio employees are entitled to a more broad range of employment discrimination protections.
What Are the Grounds for Wrongful Termination in Ohio?
Because Ohio labor laws have designated it as an at-will employment state, proving wrongful termination can be especially challenging. This is especially true if it is not abundantly clear that an employer fired the employee in violation of state or federal laws.
At-will employment rules do not prevent either party from forming an explicit written contract. What this means is that if an employment contract exists, and the terms of the contract define termination procedures, both parties will be held to the contract terms.
It is important to note that, even if the employment is on an at-will basis, a person can still file a wrongful termination lawsuit. This would be based on the following two theories:
- Implied Contract: The conduct or oral statements of an employer can sometimes create what is known as an implied contract. Under such circumstances, the employee must prove that the employer made specific promises related to the future of their employment. Additionally, the employee must prove that they relied on those specific promises, to their detriment or harm. An example of this would be how an implied contract may be established from statements made, or manuals that were distributed during the hiring orientation.
- Public Policy Violations: Terminating an at-will employment arrangement is illegal if it violates public policy. As such, the terminated employee would be required to prove that:
- The termination jeopardized a clear public policy;
- The termination was related to the public policy; and
- The employer did not have a “legitimate business justification” for the termination. An example of this would be when the employee is fired for reporting the business’s misconduct to an outside authority.
What Are the Steps to Sue for Wrongful Termination in Ohio?
Employees can sue an employer for wrongful termination. However, there is a specific process that must be followed before legal action can be initiated. The first step in suing for wrongful termination would be to contact the employer’s human resources department. This department will likely be able to provide assistance without getting an attorney involved, as it is unlikely that the employer will want to go through legal proceedings if they can avoid doing so.
Generally speaking, you will need to exhaust all available administrative remedies before moving on with any legal action. If the human resources department is unable to resolve the issue, you may then contact the EEOC and file a claim against your employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) works to combat workplace discrimination, and may conduct an investigation in order to issue a remedy.
Prior to filing your complaint with the EEOC, you should gather as much information as possible. Examples of this could include:
- Documents such as a copy of the employment contract;
- Hiring and firing forms;
- Pay stubs;
- Written witness statements; and
- Any other documentation that you believe will support your claims. If the EEOC does not remedy the situation, you may then file a civil lawsuit against your employer.
In terms of the steps involved in actually suing for wrongful termination in Ohio, a local attorney can help you understand the process and how best to proceed.
What Remedies and Damages Are Available for Wrongful Termination?
There are many different remedies for wrongful termination in Ohio, but they will vary based on the specific harm caused by the employer. A successful wrongful termination lawsuit could result in the following equitable remedies:
- Reinstatement to your position, if you wish to return;
- An injunction against the employer, which would prevent them from taking specified action;
- Compensation for any loss of pay or benefits;
- A “make whole” solution, which could consist of:
- Transferring or promoting the employee;
- Increasing the employee’s wage; or
- Clearing the employee’s personnel file of any wrongdoing; or
- Compensation for any out of pocket expenses related to searching for a new job, or that were directly caused by the unfair termination.
Depending on the severity of the wrongful termination claim, the employer may also be required to pay additional damages. Examples of this could include:
- Stress and/or suffering damages;
- Punitive damages; and
- Legal fees, such as attorney fees and court costs.
Should I Consult an Ohio Employment Attorney for My Wrongful Termination Case?
If you are employed in Ohio and believe you were wrongfully terminated, you should consult with an experienced Ohio wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible. It is imperative that your legal rights as a worker are protected, and that the issue is resolved quickly. Because state employment laws vary widely, it is important to hire a local attorney, as they will be best suited to understanding how Ohio employment laws will affect your legal options.
An experienced and local Ohio employment attorney can help you work with your employer’s human resources department, as well as file an EEOC complaint against your employer. Further, should the issue remain unresolved, an Ohio lawyer will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, while working towards a suitable legal remedy and/or damages award.