Work it Out Blog

What Does “At-Will” Employment Mean for Ohio Employers?

Jan 25, 2016

“Isn’t Ohio an at-will state?” “That means I can fire anybody for any reason, right?” Not so fast. Black’s Law Dictionary defines employment at will simply as that “undertaken without a contract and that may be terminated at any time, by either the employer or the employee, without cause.” However, at-will employment is not as black and white as it once was.

Over the last century, Congress and Ohio have created many exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine in order to protect civil rights. These exceptions include disallowing the termination or other adverse treatment of employees and potential employees based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, military status, national origin, disability, age, and ancestry. Those limitations are fairly well known, but their application can sometimes be murky. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch for not hiring a Muslim woman who wore a hijab head scarf to her interview, even though she never mentioned she was Muslim. It is less commonly known that employers cannot terminate an at-will employee for serving on a jury, taking time to vote in elections, having wages garnished, or filing a workers’ compensation claim. The complexity of issues that face employers regarding at-will employment can be daunting.

Furthermore, even though employers may terminate an at-will employee for any reason that does not conflict with the laws noted above, employers should be aware that disgruntled former employees also file what are known as “common law” claims against an employer. Some of the most frequently used claims include:

  • negligent hiring, supervision, or retention
  • interference with contract
  • defamation
  • negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • invasion of privacy

As you can see, the exceptions have swallowed the at-will rule. Between the statutory exceptions to at-will employment and the claims an employee can make against an employer even if none of the exceptions apply, it is crucial for employers to map out companywide management strategies for navigating the landmines of hirings and terminations. Day Ketterer’s lawyers can help you in establishing consistent and sound procedures for personnel management to avoid issues arising from the many nuances of the laws governing employment. We can be contacted at 330-455-0173 or info@dayketterer.com.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for any purpose. This blog is not intended to present an exhaustive summary of all applicable laws, or to take the place of legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding the law, please contact us for assistance.