Fraud or other illegal activity in the workplace can hurt careers and expose employees to potential criminal liability. Reporting an employer’s illegal activity that harms the public interest is an act of civic service, and protections exist under Ohio law for employees that report or otherwise oppose an employer or coworker’s illegal acts. But these laws are complex, and often times specific actions must be taken by whistleblowers in order to qualify for protection under the law.
Consult with experienced attorney David Nacht if you have reported, or are considering reporting, fraud or other illegal activity in your workplace and are currently experiencing retaliation or are worried about future retaliation. NachtLaw can guide you through the whistleblowing process, determine whether a lawsuit is appropriate, and will always protect your confidentiality.
There are two primary avenues in Ohio to enforce employees’ rights and protect employees from retaliation for reporting or opposing an employer’s illegal activity: R.C. 4113.52, Ohio’s Whistleblower Protection Act (“WPA”), and common law claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. In addition, there are other ‘whistleblower’ laws for specific highly regulated industries.
Whistleblower Protection Act
Ohio’s WPA protects whistleblowers who report an employer or fellow employee for what they reasonably believe to be 1) a “criminal offense that is likely to cause an imminent risk of physical harm to persons or a hazard to public health or safety,” 2) a felony, or 3) an improper solicitation for a political contribution. To obtain protection from workplace retaliation, the whistleblower must “orally notify his or her supervisor or [a] responsible officer of the employer of the violation and  file with that person a written report that provides sufficient detail to identify and describe the violation.” Keehan v. Korenowski, 2017-Ohio-7050, ¶ 10, 95 N.E.3d 781, 784–85. Both the oral and written complaint must have been made to the same supervisor or officer. The employer then has 24 hours to address the report and respond to the whistleblower in writing. In the case of a violation of law by an employer, a whistleblower may then report externally to a law enforcement agency or other public body, but need not do so as long as she follows the process laid out in the statute for reporting internally. See Keehan, 2017-Ohio-7050, ¶ 23, 95 N.E.3d 781, 787.
Ohio’s WPA is complex, and certain exceptions exist – some types of crimes may be reported directly to an “appropriate public official or agency that has regulatory authority over the employer and the industry, trade, or business in which the employer is engaged.” WPA claims also have a relatively short statute of limitations, which means there is a very limited amount of time after experiencing retaliation to bring a claim.
Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy
An Ohio employee can also bring a wrongful discharge claim when an employer’s decision to terminate them violates a public policy embodied in Ohio’s laws. See Greeley v. Miami Valley Maintenance Contractors, Inc., 49 Ohio St.3d 228, 551 N.E.2d 981 (1990). For example, courts have held in some circumstances, such as where an employee externally reported a crime that took place in the workplace to the police and faced retaliation, there is a public policy favoring reporting crimes independent of Ohio’s whistleblower act. See Bailey v. Priyanka Inc., 2001–Ohio–1410, 2001 WL 1192731 (Ohio Ct.App.2001). Courts have also held terminating an employee for refusing to violate the law can serve as the basis for a wrongful discharge claim. Anders v. Specialty Chem. Res., Inc., 121 Ohio App. 3d 348, 355, 700 N.E.2d 39, 44 (1997).
If you think you have been fired in retaliation for reporting criminal activity, cooperating in an investigation of your employer, or refusing to commit a crime, contact David Nacht to help you protect your rights.