The Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits employers from taking disciplinary or retaliatory action against an employee who reports criminal conduct. However, the Act only applies to certain criminal violations and will only protect an employee who strictly complies with the statute.
ORC §4113.52 will only apply if an employee becomes aware of:
- a violation of a criminal offense that is likely to cause imminent risk of physical harm or a hazard to public health or safety, or
- the violation is a felony, or
- an improper solicitation for a contribution.
If an employee becomes aware of one of the above, the employee must notify the employee’s supervisor and provide a written report with sufficient detail to identify and describe the violation. It is important to note that an employee who reports a criminal violation does not have to be correct in order to have the protection of the statute. If the employee had a good faith belief that a violation had occurred, the statute will apply.
The Act prohibits any form of retaliation including:
(1) Removing or suspending the employee from employment;
(2) Withholding from the employee salary increases or employee benefits to which the employee is otherwise entitled;
(3) Transferring or reassigning the employee;
(4) Denying the employee a promotion that otherwise would have been received;
(5) Reducing the employee in pay or position.
An employee who is disciplined or retaliated against for blowing the whistle may bring a claim under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The claim must be filed within 180 days of the retaliation, and the employee may seek remedies including reinstatement, lost wages, benefits, seniority rights and attorneys’ fees.
Many employees are not able to meet the strict requirements of the Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act. However, the Supreme Court of Ohio has recognized a common law claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. To establish a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, an employee must show that a clear public policy exists, that the termination of the employee under such circumstances would jeopardize the public policy, the employee’s termination was motivated by conduct related to the public policy and that the employer did not have a legitimate business justification for the employee’s termination.
Although a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy will apply to more claims than the Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act, an employee will not have access to the same damages. An employee who successfully pursues a claim for wrongful termination of public policy will generally not be able to recover attorneys’ fees unless the employee is awarded punitive damages.
If you feel that you have a Whistleblower claim or if you feel you were terminated in violation of a public policy, contact Dworken & Bernstein for a free consultation.