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Thomas A. Sobecki, Attorney at Law in Toledo Ohio
Thomas A. Sobecki
Attorney at Law
405 Madison Ave. Suite 910
Toledo, Ohio 43604
Areas of Practice
Wrongful Discharge & Wrongful Termination

Simply put, wrongful discharge, or wrongful termination, two terms signifying the same act, is any discharge from employment which is in violation of law. For example, as most people are aware, the statutes (written laws) of both Ohio, including the Toledo area, and the United States prohibit employers from discharging (or refusing to promote or hire) an employee on the basis of the employee's race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, or age. These and several other specific examples of wrongful discharge are discussed in detail in their own articles located on this web site. In addition, the courts of Ohio, including of course the courts in Toledo, Ohio, and other States have found that public policy prohibits employers from terminating their employees for certain reasons even when those reasons are not specifically prohibited by state or federal statutes. Additionally, even where the employer has not violated any statute or public policy, his or her words or actions may constitute an express or implied, contractual promise of continued employment terminable only for cause. Some specific examples of these statutes, public policies, and contractual issues are listed below. But first, let's discuss another term: "at will" employment.

What is "At-Will" Employment?

Unless you are a union member working under a collective bargaining agreement, or are otherwise working under an employment contract, your employment is probably "at-will." This means that you serve at the will of your employer, just as your employer has your services only for so long as you choose to serve him. If you are an at-will employee, you are free to leave your job at any time, for good reason, bad reason, or just because you feel like it. However, by the same token, your employer is generally free to terminate your employment anytime he or she wants, whether for good reason, bad reason, or for no reason at all, unless you come under one of the exceptions to the employee-at-will doctrine. Additionally, your employer generally may change the terms or conditions of your employment, such as your job description, wages, or location, at any time and for any reason. We say "generally," because there are exceptions to the at-will employment rule. We have already briefly mentioned some of those exceptions in the previous section. In subsequent sections, we will list (and in some cases discuss) a number of specific exceptions to the rule. As you read those sections, however, you should keep in mind that the list is not necessarily exhaustive. The field of employment law is complex and ever changing. What was permissible employer behavior yesterday may not be permissible today, and what is permissible employer behavior today may be found by a court to be impermissible tomorrow. Or circumstances may arise that have not even been previously considered by a court. Therefore, you cannot assume that just because you cannot pigeonhole the circumstances surrounding your termination into one of the below categories, you are without remedy for your termination. Again, however, just because your employer did not have a good reason to terminate you does not mean that in doing so he violated the law. Only an experienced employment attorney, after carefully considering the facts of your case and applying the law to those facts, can tell you whether those facts would support a claim for wrongful termination.

Attorney Sobecki has more than 29 years experience representing wrongfully terminated employees in Toledo and throughout Ohio. Over this period of time, he has recovered millions of dollars in compensation for his clients. He has successfully represented employees from every county in Northwest Ohio and from many counties outside of the region. While Mr. Sobecki does not practice in the State courts of Indiana or Michigan, where employees have been terminated in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws, he can handle those cases in the federal courts of those states. In addition to Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, he practices in Illinois and other states.

Wrongful Termination of Union Employees

If you were terminated while a member of a union, you were most likely protected by a collective bargaining agreement. In that case, you were not an at-will employee, and you could only be terminated according to the terms and conditions of the agreement. Operating in Toledo, Northwest Ohio, and throughout the region, Attorney Sobecki has been able to help many union employees even if the grievance procedure has failed to bring about a satisfactory resolution of the problem. Furthermore, even where the grievance process is still under way and no final resolution has occurred, an experienced employment attorney such as Attorney Sobecki may be able to help you maximize the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome of the grievance process as well as discuss with you other legal options, especially if you are a victim of discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, religion, disability, or age.

A Non-Exhaustive List of Exceptions to the At-Will Employment Rule:
Statutory Exceptions: Federal and/or Ohio statutes prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of:

Your race, gender, age (if you are at least 40 years old), religion, disability, ancestry, or national origin. Additionally, even if you are not being discriminated against on the basis of those factors, you may be protected from retaliation arising from your support of a fellow employee who is being discriminated against, or if you previously complained that you were a victim of discrimination.

Your reporting of illegal activity by your employer, or your refusal to engage in illegal activity. (See special section below, "Protection for Whistleblowers").

Your pregnancy.

Your use of the Family Medical Leave Act.

Your reporting of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) violations to that agency.

Your having filed a workers compensation claim.

Your employer being required to garnish your wages (applies only to the first garnishment).

Your actions or status protected under the Fair Credit Reporting Act or Bankruptcy Act.

Your status as an active-duty service person or recent veteran, as protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

Non-statutory, Public Policy Exceptions:

A public policy is a belief or rule that benefits the public. Public policy is often expressed in written statutes. For example, the civil rights statutes of Ohio and the United States express the public policy that employees should not be discriminated against on the basis of characteristics such as race or gender. There are also local laws in cities like Toledo, Ohio, that prohibit employment discrimination. However, in many states, including Ohio, the courts have found certain practices to be prohibited as a matter of public policy, even when there is no written statute specifically prohibiting such a practice. For example, while in most states there is no specific statute (written law) which would prohibit an employer from terminating an employee for exercising his or her right to vote, most courts would no doubt find such an action unlawful as a matter of public policy.

Generally speaking, even where not specifically enacted into law, courts will sometimes find employers to have violated public policy when they discriminate against an employee for exercising any important statutory or constitutional right. Similarly, courts will generally not allow employers to discriminate against employees for responding to any important duty of citizenship, such as serving on a jury or honoring a subpoena by attending and testifying at a trial or deposition. These examples of public policy exceptions are just that - examples. Any important statutory or constitutional right or duty of citizenship may give rise to a public policy exception to the at-will employment rule. If you believe that you have been terminated for exercising some important right or duty, I urge you to set up an appointment to meet with me. I have successfully represented workers in Toledo, Northwest Ohio, and throughout the region who were terminated in violation of public policy, even when no specific statutory provision forbade their discharge.

Protection for Whistleblowers

Ohio law provides statutory protection (commonly known as the "Ohio Whistleblower Act") for whistleblowers; that is, for employees who report workplace violations of the law to the appropriate authorities. However, the law contains rigid requirements concerning when and how the employee must act in order to be protected by the law. Employees who report wrongdoing but who do not follow the specifics of the Whistleblower Act may find themselves without protection from retaliation by the employer. Therefore, if you believe that your employer is violating the law, or is requiring or asking you to violate the law, and if you are worried about retaliation if you report the violation or refuse to violate the law yourself, you may want to consider consulting with an attorney early in the process for advice on dealing with the situation. An experienced employment attorney can help assure that you follow the requirements of the Ohio Whistleblower Act so that you can be covered by its protections. Attorney Sobecki has considerable experience representing employees in Toledo and throughout Ohio regarding wrongful discharge, including whistleblower violations.

Contractual Exceptions

Relative to most parts of the country, a high percentage of employees in Toledo and Northwest Ohio are members of labor unions. As noted above, union members generally work under collective bargaining agreements. An employee may work pursuant to a personal service contract. A personal service contract is an agreement between an employer and an individual employee which establishes terms and conditions of employment, and which usually guarantees employment for a fixed period of time, pursuant to which the employee cannot be terminated without good cause, while the employee is prohibited from offering his services to another employer during the term of the contract. Personal service contracts are most commonly found in the entertainment industry and among upper management levels of other businesses.

However, even when an employee is not working under a written agreement such as collective bargaining agreement or a personal service contract, a company may create an implied or express contract by its words and actions. For example, if an employer sets forth a progressive discipline policy in a company handbook, and states that it will utilize the policy for discipline of its employees, it may be required to follow that policy before terminating an employee. Similarly, if the employer's managers tell employees that they will be employed by the company so long as they maintain good behavior, they may have converted their employees from "at-will" status to "terminable only for cause" status.

As with public policy exceptions, only an experienced employment attorney will likely have the expertise to be able to advise you whether your employer may have created limitations on its right to terminate your employment. Attorney Sobecki has considerable experience representing employees in Toledo and throughout Ohio regarding exceptions to the employment at will doctrine.

Final Thoughts

Necessarily, the above discussion of the broad subjects of at-will employment and wrongful discharge in Toledo, Ohio, and other areas of the United States, is not comprehensive. Employment lawyers spend a lifetime gaining knowledge and experience in this sometimes-complex area of law. I have tried to present a guide to give you an idea of what to expect. Hopefully, this guide may even assist some employees in carrying out their employment in such a way as to maximize their chances of keeping their jobs. Think your employer can't fire you for playing World of Warcraft on company computers during your lunch break? Better think again. Tempted to shoot your mouth off to the boss because his brother-in-law got away with the same thing? Probably you shouldn't.

Whatever your current situation - whether you're a current employee having trouble with your boss, or a recently-terminated employee, an experienced employment attorney may be able to help you keep your job, or even obtain improved conditions of employment for you, or see that you get compensated and/or reinstated if you have been wrongfully terminated. My name is Thomas Sobecki and I have been handling employment cases for more than 29 years in the Toledo area and throughout Ohio and other states. I will work hard to restore the financial losses of those who have been wrongly discharged from their place of employment.

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