Although the term “wrongful termination” is often used when an employee is fired, Ohio is an at-will employment state, which means that for the most part employers may terminate employees at any time and for any reason. Employers can even fire employees for no reason at all under this legal doctrine. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and one of those is when the termination is found to be in violation of public policy. So, what does this mean? It is important that employees understand what a violation of public policy is, so they can understand if they might have a valid wrongful termination claim.
Four Elements of a Violation of Public Policy Claim
To prove that an employer fired you in a violation of public policy, as a threshold requirement you must satisfy the following four elements:
- The termination of the employee threatens that public policy,
- The termination of the employee was caused by their conduct in furtherance of the public policy,
- A clear public policy must be established in state or federal law, state or federal constitution, or in administrative regulation, and
- The employer could not provide a valid business justification for terminating the employee.
To understand what you must prove in a wrongful termination claim for violation of public policy, it is important to understand what each of these four elements requires.
A Clear Public Policy
A clear public policy usually involves reporting felonious criminal activity or unsafe working conditions that violate the law. For example, if a healthcare worker was ordered by their employer to inflate the cost of service when reporting to Medicare, that is a violation of the False Claims Act, a clear violation of public policy. Violations of public policy do not always involve a criminal act, however. If a cafeteria worker was ordered by their employer to serve unsafe food, that may also be a violation of public policy because it disregards the safety and general welfare of the public. Public policy violations are difficult to prove as they usually require an employer to violate a state or federal law, the state or federal constitution, or an administrative regulation.
Threatening the Public Policy and Wrongful Termination
To prove that an employer threatened the public policy, you must show that your employer engaged in activities that threaten the intent and effectiveness of the clearly established public policy.Typically, this occurs when an employee is terminated.
The termination Was Caused by the Employee’s Conduct
To satisfy the third element, you must establish the direct link between your behavior in regard to the public policy violation and your termination. This requirement has to do with causation. Did the employer terminate you because of your behavior regarding a clearly established public policy? Using the above example of reporting Medicare fraud, an employee would need to prove that was the reason for termination, and not some other reason like poor attendance or performance issues.
Lack of a Business Justification for the Termination
Finally, you must also prove there was no legitimate business justification for your termination. For example, if your employer had already planned to eliminate your position due to a reduction-in-force, and you were terminated, the employer will likely have a legitimate business justification for your termination.
Were You Terminated in Violation of Public Policy? Our Ohio Employment Lawyers can Help
Claims involving a violation of public policy are complex and depend on the specific facts and laws or regulations involved. If you think you have been terminated in violation of public policy, you may have a potential claim against your employer. Our Columbus employment lawyers at Marshall Forman & Schlein, LLC, can evaluate your potential claim. Our knowledgeable attorneys have the necessary experience to prove your employer acted with disregard for public policy, and that you deserve compensation as a result of your termination. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a consultation so we can review your case.