Wrongful Termination

The term "wrongful termination" seems to be one of the least understood concepts in employment law. Many workers believe that "wrongful termination" is simply termination without cause. (That standard does apply in the unemployment compensation context.) In fact, termination is only wrongful if it arises in very specific circumstances.

If you are like most workers in Ohio, you are employed "at will." This means you can be fired for any reason, no reason, or even a ridiculous or untrue reason. Therefore, your boss can terminate you for no reason and this is not considered wrongful termination. By the same token, "at will" means that you can quit at any time for any reason.

Typically, termination only becomes "wrongful" or illegal if it is for an illegal reason or breaches an employment contract. Some common exceptions to the "at will" employment rule are below, but if you have specific questions, you should call the me at (614) 604-8759.

Discrimination

Both Ohio law and federal law protect workers against discrimination based on various protected classes like age, race, sex, religion, national original, and disability. If you were fired because of your membership in any of those protected classes, then the termination may have been wrongful or illegal.

Retaliation

Sometimes, employers retaliate against workers by letting them go. Whether a retaliatory firing is illegal depends on the reason for the retaliation.

Common illegal reasons for retaliation include:

  • Complaining about other illegal activity (for example, if you complained to your boss about being sexually harassed)
  • Whistle-blowing
  • Refusing to participate in an illegal activity (for example, if your boss asked you to pay employees less than minimum wage and you refused)
  • Assisting another employee fighting illegal activity (for example, if you truthfully testify in court that your employer discriminated against someone)

Not all retaliatory terminations are illegal. For example, it would be legal for your boss to retaliate against you for beating him in a fantasy football league.

Public Policy

Ohio law also recognizes what is called the "public policy exception" to at will employment. Essentially, this legal concept states that you may not be fired if that termination would be against public policy. For example, if your company demanded that you submit fraudulent paperwork to the government and then fired you because you refused, you may have a public policy claim.

Breach of Contract

Not all legally binding contracts are written documents labeled "contract." Some contracts are formed because of verbal promises or written company policies. If your company fires you in violation of these promises, you may have been wrongfully terminated.

Note that simply because a company breaches its own policy does not mean the firing was done illegally. There are a number of factors to look at. For example, if the policy was in a handbook, did the handbook state that the employment was at will?

What to do if you think you have been terminated wrongfully?

If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, you may call my office at (614) 604-8759 to discuss your case. The earlier in the process that you call, the more likely I will be able to help.

Many people who call a law firm about wrongful termination do not actually have a claim for an illegal firing because the at will employment rule is very broad and difficult to get around. But, that does not mean you are out of luck. Often, workers have other legal claims, not necessarily related to the termination. Those claims can help provide relief to workers who have been fired. An experienced employment lawyer can help find those claims and advise you on your rights.

Note: As of January 1, 2015, I have joined Markovits, Stock & DeMarco as Of Counsel. I am still available to assist you with any employment law issues you may have. My direct number is 614-604-8759.