Labor and Employment

Employment law in Ohio

Employers usually can end your job any time for almost any reason, but you still have rights. Learn about employment law in Ohio.

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Understanding the Basics

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It’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities and your employer’s rights and responsibilities under Ohio law.

In general:

  • Jobs can end for any reason. Most employment in Ohio is “at will.” That means an employer can end your job any time for almost any reason, and you can leave your job any time for almost any reason.
  • Some employees have more protections. Employees like public school teachers and union members usually are not employed “at will” and have additional rights. For example, teachers generally have the right to an employment contract that renews each year. Most union members can’t be fired without “just cause,” or a valid, legal reason.
  • You have rights. You have protections whether or not you are an at-will employee. For example, employers can’t illegally discriminate against you, like firing you because of your race, sex or age (over 40).

Different types of workers

Different categories of workers have different rights, so it’s important to know your legal classification as a worker.

For example:

  • At-will employees are most common. As an at-will employee, your employer usually can end your job any time for any reason. But you still have protections. For example, your employer can’t treat you unfairly because you are pregnant or fire you for taking time off for jury duty.
  • Independent contractors are not employees. As an independent contractor, you are not an “employee” and don’t get the benefits or rights of an employee. The company you work for can’t control or supervise your time, activities or working conditions. You may be called a freelancer, self-employed or a 1099 worker.
  • Union members have agreements. A collective bargaining agreement usually sets out your rights as a union employee. There are limits to how or when you can be fired.
  • Temporary workers usually are not “employees.” As a temporary worker, you’re usually not an employee of the company where you’re working. That means you don’t have the job security or benefits of a company employee. You still have the right to be treated fairly without discrimination or harassment.

Rights before hiring

You have rights even before you get a job.

Protection from discrimination

During the hiring process:

  • You should be treated fairly. Employers can’t use your race, sex or other “protected class” characteristics as a reason not to interview or hire you.
  • Employers should consider job qualifications. Employers should use your job skills and work experience to decide if you qualify for the job.  
  • Social media shouldn’t be used to discriminate. Employers shouldn’t check social media to learn about your race, sex, age or other protected characteristics and use it against you. (As a job applicant, be careful about what you put on social media and check your privacy settings.)

Background checks

Employers can ask you for a background check, but you have rights:

  • Employers should get permission. Employers must get your permission before doing a background check, whether they’re checking your credit or criminal history. Even if another company is performing the background check, the employer must get your permission first. You can refuse the background check, but you may not get the job.
  • You may respond. If the background check uncovers a reason not to hire you, the employer should notify you. You can ask for more information. You may be able to correct wrong information. The Fair Credit Reporting Act generally gives you the right to challenge and fix incorrect information in your background check. Follow the background check company’s instructions for disputing information.
  • You can fix credit errors. If you don’t get a job because of your credit check, you have the right to review your credit report and correct any errors that you find under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • Some records may be sealed. A criminal record can make it harder to find a job. You may be able to seal your criminal record so that most employers can’t see it. Learn about sealing a criminal record in Ohio.

Drug testing

Employers usually can require drug testing as part of a job, but there are limits:

  • It should relate to the job. Drug testing should be fair, consistent and related to your ability to do the job.
  • Employers should give advance notice. Employers must provide advance notice if they will require you to take a drug test. They also shouldn’t necessarily use the results against you.
  • The job offer should come first. Employers can’t require a drug test before they’ve offered you the job. You can refuse the drug test, but you may not get the job.

Rights during employment

You have rights while you are employed. Some rights apply to all workers, like protection from discrimination. Other rights apply only to certain workers, like job protection for military servicemembers.

Benefits and leave

Employers generally don’t have to provide benefits or leave for time off, but you may have rights depending on your situation.

In general:

  • Employers should explain their policies. Employers should have a policy that sets out available benefits and leave. Check your employee manual for information.
  • Some benefits are required by law. Most larger employers with 50 or more employees must offer health insurance, under the Affordable Care Act. You also may have the right to disability leave and benefits if you are injured, disabled or sick on the job.
  • Smaller organizations may offer less. Smaller companies usually don’t have to provide as many benefits or leave options as larger companies.
  • Different workers have different rights. Full-time employees usually have more rights than temporary, part-time or contract workers. Some rights only apply if you have worked for the company long enough, like at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Learn more about employee benefits and leave.

Note: If an employer doesn’t pay you, you can file an Ohio minimum wage complaint with the Ohio Department of Commerce's Bureau of Wage & Hour Administration.

Hurt on the job

You may have protections if you are hurt or injured on the job, or if you have a health problem caused by work.

For example:

  • Workers’ compensation may apply. You may have the right to benefits like health care or medical bill payments.
  • You can start a claim online. In Ohio, workers’ compensation is managed by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. You can start a claim by filing a first report of injury on the Ohio BWC website.

Reporting safety problems or fraud

“Whistleblower” laws give you rights to report safety problems or fraud you uncover at work.

In general:

  • Whistleblower protections vary. Your rights as a whistleblower depend on the type of issue you’re reporting.
  • Employers shouldn’t retaliate. Employers shouldn’t threaten, harass or intimate you for reporting concerns about safety or fraud. They also shouldn’t reduce your pay or work hours for reporting your concerns.
  • Consider reporting anonymously. Agencies that regulate your industry may have a tip line where you can report your concern without giving your name or personal information.

Union member rights

Union employees, such as many teachers and police officers, work under collective bargaining agreements.

In general:

  • Salary and benefits are negotiated. Your salary, working conditions and benefits usually are negotiated through collective bargaining agreements with your employer. The agreement typically limits how or when you can be fired.
  • Work with your union representative. You usually are represented by a trade union you belong to. Contract your union representative with questions or problems. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enforces U.S. labor law involving collective bargaining.

Servicemembers’ rights

Employees who are called to military service have rights.

For example:

  • Employers shouldn’t discriminate. Employers shouldn’t treat you differently because of your current or former military status.
  • Servicemembers can keep their jobs. Your employer should protect your civilian job and benefits while you are in military service, according to a federal law called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). This applies to almost everyone in the Armed Forces, Reserves or National Guard. It also applies to state activation of the National Guard by the Ohio governor.

Rights during job loss

Most jobs can end at any time for any reason, but some workers have protections.

In general:

  • Some employers must give advance notice. You have the right to get advance notice of a qualified plant closing or mass layoff under a federal law called the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act
  • Unemployment may offer cash assistance. You may be able to receive cash assistance through Ohio's unemployment insurance program if you lose your job through “no fault of your own.” Learn more about who qualifies and how to apply.
  • You lose rights if you quit. You can’t get unemployment and you lose rights if you leave, resign or quit your job. (You keep more of your rights if you are fired or terminated.)

Where to get help 

If you can’t solve a problem directly with your employer:

  • Contact the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. The Ohio Civil Rights Commission has a free service to help employers and employees with discrimination complaints. You can file an employment charge on the commission’s website. Don’t identify your disability or medical condition in your charge.
  • File your charge within 2 years. For employment complaints, you must file your charge within 2 years of when the discrimination or harassment happened. You must file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission before you can sue in court. The commission will review your complaint. In most cases, you must get a “Notice of Right to Sue” from the commission before you can file a lawsuit.

Employment law is complicated. If you can, talk to a lawyer. You can find organizations that can connect you with a lawyer or other legal help on this page under “Legal Help and Lawyers.”

You can find a lawyer who specializes in employment law through the state or local bar associations or through the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association (OELA).

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