The Supreme Court of Ohio has just created a new avenue for at-will employees who are discharged and want to claim their firing violates public policy.
At-will employees can be fired for any reason or no reason as long as the reason isn’t illegal or violates public policy—the broad principles that guide government action.
In the following case, the state Supreme Court ruled that employees who are fired after reporting an on-the-job injury but before they have a chance to file a workers’ compensation claim can sue for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.
The case clearly indicates that the Supreme Court will entertain new remedies for employees when legal loopholes prevent them from suing their employers.
Recent case: When DeWayne Sutton hurt his back while disassembling tools at Tomco Machining, he immediately reported the injury.
Within an hour, Sutton found himself on the street. He asked why he was terminated, but was simply told there was no reason. The company did volunteer that it was not because he broke a rule or had.
Sutton sent the company a letter stating he intended to sue for unlawful retaliation. Then he made good on the threat, filing a lawsuit alleging he had been fired so the company’s workers’ comp premiums wouldn’t rise.
Tomco argued that, while the Ohio workers’ compensation statute allows employees fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim to sue for retaliation, the statute doesn’t cover injured employees who have not yet filed a claim.
The Supreme Court of Ohio considered what to do about that intermediate time span. Following Tomco’s reasoning, it concluded, would give employers an incentive to fire employees as soon as possible after they were injured to avoid liability. To eliminate that obviously unfair situation, the court decided it was against public policy to fire injured employees before they could file for workers’ comp.
The court did add that employees alleging wrongful discharge are limited to receiving the benefits they otherwise would have received under Ohio’s workers’ compensation law. (Sutton v. Tomco Machining, No. 2011-Ohio-2723, Supreme Court of Ohio, 2011)