Under Ohio law, most employment relationships are “at-will,” which means that employees and employers can terminate employment at any time, for any reason or no reason, so long as it is not an unlawful reason. Non-attorneys, and even attorneys that do not practice employment law often speak of “wrongful discharge,” but this term can be misleading. An employment termination may be “wrong,” as in unfair, but not necessarily unlawful. A claim for unlawful discharge can be brought if based on a breach of contract, principles of estoppel, for violation of federal or state statutes, and violation of public policy.
Claims for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy may be brought by an “at-will” employee whose termination is motivated for a reason prohibited by public policy. A claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy may not be asserted by employees who are union members. To maintain a public policy violation claim, the terminated employee must prove a clear public policy exists, that the dismissal jeopardizes the public policy, the dismissal was motivated by conduct related to the public policy, and there is no overriding legitimate business justification for the dismissal.
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