What is the Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act and Public Policy?

Whistleblower Protection Act

Whistleblowers are people who report fraud or other illegal activity in the workplace. People who report fraud or other illegal activity recognize it as an act of civil service, but many are concerned that reporting illegal conduct can hurt their career and expose them to potential criminal liability. Fortunately, there are laws in place that protect whistleblowers.

If you are considering reporting fraud or other illegal activity in your workplace, you should consult with an experienced whistleblower and consumer protection attorney first.

The whistleblower and consumer protection attorneys at Robenalt Law have extensive experience advising and representing whistleblowers, and can provide advice on how to protect yourself and what to do if your employer retaliates against you.

Ohio Whistleblower Protections

The general rule in Ohio is that employees are “at-will” and can be fired at any time for no reason at all. But when it comes to whistleblowers, Ohio recognizes two primary protections: the Whistleblower Protection Act, and common law claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act

The Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act protects people who report an employer or a fellow employee’s illegal conduct. To be protected, the person must reasonably believe that an employer or fellow employee is committing 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 be protected under the statute, a whistleblower must verbally notify his or her supervisor or a responsible officer of the employer and file a written report that provides enough detail to identify and describe the violation. The employer then has 24 hours to address the report and respond to the whistleblower in writing. The whistleblower may then report the violation externally to a law enforcement agency or other public body.

While Ohio’s whistleblower law seems straightforward on its face, it is actually is quite complex and subject to numerous exceptions. For example, some crimes may be reported directly to a public official or public agency that has regulatory authority over the employer, or the industry, trade, or business in which the employer is engaged. In addition, whistleblower claims are covered by a very short statute of limitations, which means that there is very little time after retaliation for an employee to make a claim.

Claims of Wrongful Discharge

An employee who lost his or her job after reporting illegal conduct can also bring a claim for wrongful termination. The former employee must allege that the employer’s decision to terminate his or her employment violated a public policy that is embodied in Ohio laws. Thus, Ohio law supports people who report criminal activity and then face retaliation at work.

Ohio courts have ruled that an employer may not discharge an employee for reasons that are contrary to public policy. To be protected, the whistleblower must establish a clear public policy that is expressed in a constitutional provision, statute, regulation, or judicial decision. The whistleblower must then show that their dismissal was in violation of that policy.

For example, an employee who loses his or her job after filing a claim for Workers’ Compensation could claim wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio public policy because Ohio law recognizes an employee’s right to collect workers’ compensation benefits. Similarly, an employer that coerces employees into committing perjury could face allegations of violating public policy.

Examples of Common Whistleblower Protections

Under the Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act, workers cannot be retaliated against for reporting:

    • Violations of Enumerated Laws. A worker cannot be fired for reporting violations of Air Pollution Control laws, Solid and Hazardous Waste laws, Safe Drinking Water laws, or Water Pollution Control laws.
    • Criminal Offenses. A worker cannot be discharged for reporting an employer’s violation of criminal laws.
  • Co-Worker’s Criminal Activities. A worker who reports on the criminal activity of co-workers is protected from termination.

Ohio workers receive common law protection from termination of employment due to reporting:

  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Suspected illegal conduct
  • Testifying truthfully against an employer
  • Filing a lawsuit over wages
  • Consulting an attorney about a lawsuit
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim

Legal Remedies for Whistleblowers Who Suffer Retaliation

If you are a whistleblower who suffered retaliation after reporting wrongdoing in the workplace, you may be entitled to:

  • Reinstatement to your previous position
  • Back pay
  • Back pay with interest
  • Reinstatement of full benefits and seniority
  • Attorney’s fees

Robenalt Law Fights to Protect Ohio Whistleblowers

If you believe your employer is engaging in illegal activity and you are considering reporting it, you should contact an experienced Ohio whistleblower attorney first.

At Robenalt Law, our attorneys have extensive experience representing Ohio whistleblowers and can provide advice on how to protect yourself before you report your employer’s illegal conduct.

If you have already reported an employer’s illegal conduct and are facing retaliation at work, our lawyers can help there, too.

Contact Robenalt Law today to schedule a free, confidential consultation to learn more about how we help Ohio whistleblowers, and what we can do in your unique situation. We represent people in Cleveland and throughout Ohio, and handle whistleblower cases on a contingency fee.

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing businesses and insurance companies at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help consumers and other people who report on illegal activity.

Categories: Whistleblower

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