Unjust Discharge: A worker’s Right to Fight Back

The last words you remember hearing were “MARY JONES, PLEASE REPORT
TO PERSONNEL!” Now security is escorting you to your car.  The last twenty minutes are a blur.  You have been fired.  As the cobwebs clear, you recall asking, “Why?  What did I do?”  The less-than-enlightened personnel director responded, “This is employment-at-will.  We don’t have to give you a reason.”

Tonight, friends will call to offer support.  Some will say, “Call a lawyer.  They
can’t do this to you.”  Well, can they?

Employment-at-will means, basically, that you can be fired from a job for any
reason or no reason.  It is a legal doctrine that has existed in Ohio for over one hundred years.  It is based upon the outdated notion that employees and employers are on a level playing field.  Here’s how it goes.  Since an employee has the luxury of being able to move from job to plentiful job, free as a bird, it is only fair that the employer should be able to fire the employee on a whim.

In “employment-at-will” states such as Ohio, a worker’s ability to mount a legal
challenge to her firing will depend upon whether an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine can be found.  There are many exceptions, but they fall into two basic categories.

First, employment is not “at-will” if there is an employment contract.  Such a
contract might require the employer to have a good reason or “just cause” to fire the
employee.  Or, the contract might say that progressive discipline must be followed
before the discharge.  For instance, the contract might require the employer to
provide several written warnings to the employee before firing her.  Under certain
circumstances, an employment contract can take the form of a personnel policy,
an employee handbook, a shop work rule, or it may even be oral.  The facts and
circumstances surrounding the entire employment relationship have to be considered before you can assume that the employment relationship is “at-will.”

Second, even if there is no employment contract, an employer does not have
the right to discharge an employee for a reason that is illegal.  And, though the reason told to the employee for the discharge might be lawful, there may still be a hidden illegal reason.  For example, a worker cannot be fired due to his or her race, gender, disability, national origin, religion, age (if forty or over), under certain circumstances for missing work due to health reasons, because he or she filed workers’ compensation claims, filed OSHA claims, blew the whistle on illegal activities of the employer or for many other reasons prohibited by statute or public policy.

Bottom line — listen to your friends.  Call a lawyer.  Green Haines Sgambati has
attorneys experienced in handling unjust discharge cases who can discuss your case
with you.

This blog is designed to provide general information in regard to the subject matter covered.  This information should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice in specific situations.  If legal advice is required, the services of an attorney should be sought.