Imagine that you are at work and witness a fellow employee or supervisor committing a crime. You are about to report the illegal activity and then you stop and think to yourself, can I be fired for reporting this? What if my company accuses me of not being a loyal employee? The answer is that you are protected from retaliation by your employer for reporting illegal activity as long as you follow the proper steps.
Ohio has enacted legislation which protects employees who report illegal activity occurring at their workplace. This legislation is referred to as Whistleblower protection. Ohio Revised Code 4113.52 lays out the very specific requirements which an employee must follow to be protected. First, the employee must report the illegal activity to their supervisor orally. Second, the employee must submit a written report providing specific details of the alleged violation of law which is occurring. If the company makes no active steps to correct the violation within 24 hours after the report is filed, the employee may file a report with the prosecuting authority of the city.
For most people, this sounds like a very basic and safe way to report misconduct at the workplace. That is until they are called into the boss’s office one week after making the report and are let go from the company for being “disrespectful”, “insubordinate” or “lazy”. In the event that an employee is terminated or retaliated against for reporting the activity, Ohio has enacted legislation to protect the employee.
Ohio Revised Code 4113.52(D) permits any employee who has been retaliated against to file a civil suit against their employer within 180 days after the discipline or termination occurred. It is very important to comply with this 180 day statute of limitations in order to ensure that your claim can be raised successfully. It is important to remember that retaliation is not limited to being fired by your employer. Retaliation can also include a reduction in pay, being transferred, having your hours reduced or being suspended. If the employee is successful in proving their claims, Ohio law provides many different remedies for the employee. The employee can ask to be reinstated to their job, paid back wages, recover attorneys’ fees for the costs of the lawsuit and request that punitive damages be paid to the employee in an attempt to deter the company from such conduct in the future.
This may sound great for individuals who read this blog prior to reporting activity but what about those who did not know to follow the appropriate steps to be protected under the statute. For example, what if you reported illegal activity and were fired but did not notify your supervisor in writing. Although it is much tougher to succeed without following the steps listed above, raising a claim is still possible.
Ohio courts have acknowledged whistleblower claims based in public policy. Greeley v. Miami Valley Maintenance Contractors, Inc., 49 Ohio St.3d 228, 551 N.E.2d 981(1990). These claims have become known as “Greeley claims”. A Greeley claim can be brought when an employee feels they were terminated for reasons which our society does not feel are proper. For a Greeley claim to succeed, the employee must prove four elements. First, the employee must show that a public policy existed. Second, the employee must show that their termination jeopardizes that public policy. Third, the employee must show that their termination was related to the public policy. Finally, the employee must show that the company did not have any legitimate business interest in terminating them. Dean v. Consolidated Equities Realty, 182 Ohio App.3d 725, 2009-Ohio-2480, 914 N.E.2d 1109. In addition to these basic elements, Ohio courts have continued to add restrictions making Greely claims tougher to succeed on in the state.
Whether you have already reported illegal activity in the work place and been retaliated against or are considering whether or not to report activity it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney. The attorneys at Dinn, Hochman & Potter have significant experience in labor and employment matters and are committed to helping you with any whistleblower issues you may have. Contact the firm at 440-446-1100 for a free consultation today.