September 2, 2023

Understanding Wrongful Termination in Ohio

Category: Uncategorized

Author: Matthew T. Hurm, Esq.

Most people believe that an employer must have a good reason to terminate their employment. This is wrong. The protection a worker has varies significantly depending on the type of worker you are, but in the end, it’s a lot easier to fire you than you think (and hope).

The gig economy has greatly expanded the number of “independent contractors” in Ohio. These workers do not have employment protections at all. In Ohio and most states, the vast majority of employment is at-will, meaning that the employee can be discharged for almost any reason. Frequently, highly-skilled workers will have employment contracts and their protections of this employment contracts can widely vary. Lastly, there are union contracts called collective bargaining agreements. Union jobs have been on the decline as the power of corporate America continues to consolidate, but they still provide the greatest job security and power for workers. The following chart is a helpful tool.

Type of EmploymentIndependent ContractorAt-WillEmployment ContractUnion Contract
OT and Minimum Wage ProtectionNoYesYesYes
Protection from Discrimination & RetaliationNoYesYesYes
Public Policy Exception Applied?NoYesYesYes
Protection from Unjust DischargeNoNoMaybeYes
Severance for TerminationNoNoMaybeUsually, yes

OT and Minimum Wage Protection

In the USA, all employees but not independent contractors) are protected from the non-payment of overtime or minimum wage. Additionally, Ohio Revised Code §4113.15 states that if an employer fails to pay wages more than 30 days beyond the normal payday, an employee may have even greater rights. In those instances, the employer can be liable for liquidated damages. These laws do not apply to independent contractors.

Protection from Discrimination & Retaliation

In the USA, all employees are protected from discrimination based on their immutable qualities such as age, ancestry, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, genetic information, HIV/AIDS status, military status, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Additionally, employees are protected from retaliation from employers who discipline or discharge an employee for serving as a witness or filing a claim of discrimination. These laws do not apply to independent contractors.

Public Policy Exception

The Ohio Supreme Court has recognized certain narrow exceptions to the Employment-at-Will Doctrine, including a “public policy claim.” This exception is very narrow, but includes the following: 1) That a clear public policy existed and was manifested in a state or federal constitution, statute or administrative regulation, or in the common law, 2) that dismissing employees under circumstances like those involved in the employee’s dismissal would jeopardize the public policy, 3) the employee’s dismissal was motivated by conduct related to the public policy. 4) the employer lacked overriding legitimate business justification for the dismissal. For example, under this exception, an employer may not fire an employee because:

  • he or she complains about workplace health and safety matters;
  • an employee has a court-ordered child support wage assignment; or
  • the employee complains about sexual harassment/discrimination.

Again, this exception does not apply to independent contractors.

Protection from Unjust Discharge

At-will employees can and have had their employment terminated for wearing the wrong color shirt or because their boss does not like them on a personal level. In Iowa, an at-will employee woman was fired for being too attractive and it was found lawful (Iowa Woman Fired for Being Attractive Looks Back and Moves On – ABC News). At-will employees have minimum protections. That said, union workers have substantial protections from the whims of their bosses. If you are in a unionized environment, you have just cause protection. That generally requires that an employer follows “progressive discipline” which requires many verbal and written warnings and a suspension prior to discharge except for the most grievous of wrongdoing. Additionally, some employment contracts also provide a modicum of protection, but that is entirely dependent on the language of the contract. Independent contractors do not get just cause protection.

Severance for Termination

There is no legal requirement in Ohio that employers provide severance to at-will employees. Meanwhile, for most union contracts and some employment contracts, severance payments are available. These severance payments can be as little as two weeks or as much as half a year depending on the workplace and your length of time with the employer. Independent contractors do not get severance payments.

Have more questions about wrongful termination?

If you have questions about wrongful termination or discipline and this article did not answer all your questions, please do not hesitate to call the Hurm Law Firm. We offer free consultations to discuss your options and evaluate your legal claim(s). If you wish to schedule a free consultation, please contact the Hurm Law Firm at (216) 860-1992.

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 5:00PM

Phone: (216) 860-1922 | Fax: (216) 820-4347

© 2022 Hurm Law Firm