- posted: Jan. 20, 2014
I cannot tell you how many of our phone calls from potential clients begin with this declaration. Let's just say, it's a lot. The next question is always: can I sue my employer for wrongful discharge because I was terminated without "just cause?"
Unfortunately, the answer is too often: "probably not." You see, Ohio is an "employment at-will" State. That means that employers can terminate their employees for any reason or no reason at all, with or without notice. And, just because a termination was unfair, does not mean it was unlawful.
When a terminated employee applies for unemployment compensation benefits, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) and the Unemployment Review Commission apply a different standard than the courts of Ohio do when analyzing an employment case. For the purpose of unemployment, the question is: "are you unemployed through no fault of your own?"
If your former employer accuses you of violating a policy, the ODJFS and the Review Commission want to know whether you had notice of the policy, whether a progressive discipline policy was in place and was it applied fairly? Also, does the employer uniformly enforce the policy? If you can show that other employees committed the same offense, but were not terminated, you will likely get unemployment benefits, but this does not mean you have a wrongful discharge lawsuit.
As a general rule, in order to bring a "wrongful discharge" lawsuit you have to demonstrate that the employer violated the law in some other way. For example, if you are African American and you were terminated as a result of some policy violation and Caucasian employees committed the same offense but were not terminated, then the employer may be guilty of race discrimination. The same goes for other protected classes. Employers cannot discriminate against employees because of disability, age, sex, religion, and national origin.
Of course there are other laws that protect employees as well. For example, if you are terminated for poor attendance, but your absences were covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, then you may have a case. If you were terminated because you called OSHA, then you may have a case.
So, if you were terminated "without just cause" should you call us? Yes! The purpose of this post is not to discourage those calls, but to help you think about your case in terms of the law. We need your help in analyzing every possible cause of action. You cannot just rely on an unemployment determination - it's not a slam dunk, it just a place to start.
You can learn more about the process of applying for unemployment by going to: http://jfs.ohio.gov/
To learn more about who is in a protected class, go to http://eeoc.gov/