While there are a number of protections for employees, the framework of employment law is generally premised on the employment at will doctrine. For employees who do not have a contract, which are most employees in Ohio, considerable leeway is given to an employer in a discharge or disciplinary action. Often, even the unfair or ever error ridden discharge decision survives under this doctrine. Exceptions to the employment at will doctrine occur with union employees and sometimes with executive employees who have contracts.
However, a series of statutes gives some protection to employees. Particularly the discrimination statutes (age, race, disability, sex) state that those protected classes cannot be treated less favorably. The employment at will doctrine may operate as a backdrop but if one can prove that race or age or gender or disability was the motivating factor in the dismissal, a case is established. Other statutes also trump the common law employment at will doctrine such as the anti-retaliation workers’ compensation statute, FMLA, or the complex whistleblowing statutes.
The Ohio legislature in 2011 is considering changes to some of Ohio’s discrimination statutes but the changes, sponsored by the chamber of commerce, would favor employers.