Ohio employment discrimination laws and Federal employment discrimination laws protect workers against certain unfair and discriminatory employment practices. An employee unfairly discriminated against on the basis of race, color, age, disability, religion, pregnancy, sex, sexual harassment, marital status, military status, ancestry, or national origin may be entitled to the following:
- Job Reinstatement
- Pay lost from the date of the job loss until the date of judgment
- Pay lost for a reasonable time beyond the date of judgment
- Compensation for Loss of Employment Benefits
- Pain, Suffering, and Mental Anguish Damages
- Punitive Damages
- Attorney Fees
Q: What is unlawful discrimination?
A: Ohio employment discrimination laws and federal employment discrimination laws alike protect employees and job applicants from employment discrimination. In Ohio, the primary source for protecting employees against discrimination is the Ohio Fair Employment Practices Act. The statutes that comprise this act can be found at Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112. Federal laws prohibiting discrimination include: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Pregnancy Discrimination Act; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Fair Labor Standards Act; and the Equal Pay Act.
Q: I was the victim of discrimination or harassment. What should I do?
A: If you are already employed, you should, if possible, follow any internal rules or polices regarding discrimination or harassment. If that does not work, you should find an employment lawyer to have your case reviewed. When asking an employment lawyer to review your case, always ask first whether the employment lawyer will be charging you a fee, and if so, how much the fee will be. If you do not want to contact an employment lawyer you can pursue your claim alone by going directly to an agency that enforces the law. Examples of these agencies are The Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For many types of discrimination, before you can file a lawsuit against an employer you must file a claim with a government agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But in some cases if you file a discrimination claim with a government agency like the Ohio Civil Rights Commission you may have chosen one path for your remedy and foreclosed all others. Therefore, consulting with an employment lawyer before filing claims is always wise.
Q: I am a small business owner. Do I need to worry about discrimination laws?
A: Yes. Almost all private employers and the State of Ohio, its governmental agencies, and political subdivisions are subject to employment discrimination laws. In addition, individual supervisors can be personally liable. The various discrimination statutes often limit the size of the employer that is covered by the statute. For example, an Ohio employer must have 4 or more employees within the state before the Ohio Fair Employment Practices Act applies. But other laws like the law concerning wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio public policy may extend discrimination laws to even the smallest employers.
Q: What is an unlawful employment practice for an employer?
A: An employer can engage in unlawful employment practices in many different ways. The laws governing the relationship between an employer and its employees are varied and complex. Every employer should seek legal counsel periodically to review their primary employment practices and significant changes. But in general, the most common sources for employment discrimination claims arise when an employer:
- Makes a hiring decision based on a person's race, color, religion, pregnancy, sex, disability, military status, ancestry, or national origin.
- Fires someone based on a person's race, color, religion, pregnancy, sex, disability, military status, ancestry, or national origin.
- Takes adverse action based on a person's race, color, religion, pregnancy, sex, disability, military status, ancestry, or national origin.
Q: Does an employer need a legitimate reason to fire and employee?
A: In general, Ohio law provides that all employees are at-will and can be fired for almost any reason. Employers are not required to give any warnings or notice. But employers cannot fire an employee based on race, color, religion, pregnancy, sex, disability, military status, ancestry, or national origin. In some locations like the city of Cleveland, Ohio, employers are also prohibited from firing an employee based on sexual orientation. Employers also are not allowed to fire an at-will employee for reasons that would violate Ohio public policy. Some examples of recognized public policies are:
- Giving truthful testimony under oath
- Contacting an attorney to discuss employment rights
- Reporting crimes
- Refusing to participate in insurance fraud
- Taking almost any action protected by statute
An at-will employee fired for any of these reasons may have a case for wrongful discharge.
Q: Does an employee handbook create a contract of employment?
A: Under Ohio law, an employee handbook can create a contractual relationship between an employer and an employee. In other words, handbooks can create obligations on the part of the employer to employ an employee for a specific period unless the employer has just cause to terminate employment before that period ends. Whether a handbook creates a contract between an employee and an employer depends on the particular language in the handbook.
In Ohio, employment is presumed to be at-will unless evidence to the contrary exists. At-will employment means that the relationship can be terminated by either side for any reason at any time. Contrary evidence must show an agreement that the employment will last for a specific, limited, period. A handbook that contains such a promise will be evidence contrary to an at-will employment relationship and create a contractual relationship between the employer and employee.
Such promises are often expressed or implied in handbooks containing progressive discipline policies and probationary period policies. These are not the only sections of a handbook that contain promises of continued employment, but they are the most common.
Most employers include language in the discipline and probation policies that reserve to the employer the discretion to terminate the employment relationship at any time. If the handbook contains any such reservation for the employer, then the handbook should not create any contractual rights. If, however, the employer fails to reserve that right and implies or expresses certain rights to progressive discipline, a contractual promise can exist.
Nevertheless, an employer can still draft a handbook to prevent changing the at-will employment relationship. Even if the handbook contains provisions that might be read to imply a promise of continued employment for a specific duration, the employer can protect the at-will relationship by including an appropriate disclaimer in the handbook. These disclaimers are usually obvious and contain express reference to the at-will employment relationship. Typically, the disclaimer appears at the beginning or end of the handbook, and often employers require their employees to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the handbook and the at-will employment disclaimer.