Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Do you know? Wrongful terminations for attorney consultations

Because Ohio employees working without a contract are at-will, an employer does not need a reason—good, bad, or otherwise—for termination. Yet, do you know that an at-will employee who consults with an attorney may find himself or herself protected from termination? Ohio, like most states, prohibits employers from terminating employees in circumstances that jeopardize a clear and well-defined public policy. Ohio courts conclude that an employee’s consultation with an attorney is worthy of such protection.

Chapman v. Adia Servs., Inc., is the most oft cited case in support of this rule:

[W]e hold that it is repugnant to the public policy of this state for employers to terminate employees for exercising their right to consult a lawyer. The courthouse door must be open to the people of Ohio, and it is not ajar when citizens may be fired for entering.

Other cases have extended this protection to employees who threaten to consult with an attorney and to employees who inquire about an employer’s policy regarding employees who sue the employer.

Employers should treat employees who consult with an attorney or threaten to consult with an attorney the same as they would any employee who engages in any other legally protected activity—with care, diligence, and fairness.

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 jth@kjk.com.