We get this question a lot. When an Ohio employee is fired and the circumstances seem unfair or suspicious, he or she wants to know if there is a case for “wrongful termination.” The answer is maybe.
At the outset, we have to note that, in general, Ohio is an “at-will” employment State. At-will employment means you can be fired for a bad reason, an unfair reason, or no reason at all. But there is a critical exception to that general rule: Ohio employees cannot be fired for an illegal reason. So what is an illegal reason?
First, it is illegal in Ohio to fire an employee for a discriminatory reason. Employers cannot fire employees based on race, color, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age, or disability. “At-will” employment does not give employers the right to discriminate against you on one of these bases.
Second, it is illegal in Ohio to fire an employee for a retaliatory reason. Employers cannot fire employees because they either complained about illegal workplace discrimination or participated in an investigation into alleged discrimination. Doing so would be illegal retaliation. Ohio and federal law also have some additional “whistleblower” protections for employees fired because they reported various other violations of law.
But what happens when employees are fired for a reason that does not qualify as either discrimination or retaliation? This is where “wrongful termination” may come into play.
“Wrongful termination” is a term of art in Ohio employment law. It refers to a specific type of claim an employee has if he or she is fired for reasons that violate Ohio public policy (or federal public policy), as long as the source of the public policy does not provide its own separate right to sue. For example, being fired for making complaints about unsafe working conditions or refusing to work in unsafe conditions might be the basis for a wrongful termination claim in Ohio.
Ultimately, whether you “have a case” or not always depends on the facts of your particular situation. In the meantime though, it is important for employees to understand that “at-will” employment in Ohio does not mean your employer can do whatever it wants. Like Ohio’s anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation statutes, a claim of “wrongful termination” is an exception to the at-will doctrine.