Monday, August 23, 2010

Helping those who help themselves: Be wary of common law retaliation claims

Just because a specific statute does not provide a remedy to a terminated employee does not mean that the employee cannot pursue a claim. In fact, Ohio recognizes a wrongful discharge claim for just this situation. When an employee’s termination offends a clearly defined public policy, courts will permit that employee to pursue a claim for wrongful discharge.

Dohme v. Eurand America provides a good example. In that case, Eurand fired Dohme after he provided an on-site insurance inspector with computer printouts showing overdue fire alarm inspections. Two days late, Eurand fired him. Among other claims, Dohme asserted that his termination violated a public policy in favor of workplace safety. The appellate court agreed:

An employee who reports fire safety concerns to the employer’s insurance inspector, regardless of the employee’s intent in doing so, is protected from being fired solely for the sharing of the safety information. Eurand argues that Dohme’s claim must fail because Dohme did not report the safety issue to a governmental employee. We do not agree. It is the retaliatory action of the employer that triggers an action for violation of the public policy favoring workplace safety.

Regardless of whether a specific statute exists to protect an employee, courts will often find a way to protect someone when it is perceived that an employer retaliated. If it looks like you are firing someone “because of” some complaint the employee made, pause and give some serious thought to the decision before pulling the trigger.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or