It is often tucked into the fine print of a job application and presented in an obscure section of employee handbooks that few people read. However, it is one of the most important legal documents of any employer-employee relationship.
Welcome to your terms of employment.
In the United States, every state except Montana has established an employer-employee relationship that is legally considered “At-Will.” The United States is one of just a few countries in the world that permits employers to create at-will employment policies. Most countries have laws that require employers to demonstrate “cause” for terminating an employee.
The reasons for establishing at-will employment policies include deferring to employer wishes. The freedom to work without a contract and the philosophy of working at will are more productive than granting workers legally sanctioned job security.
What Does At-Will Employment Mean?
An at-will employment agreement allows employers to fire employees without having to give a good reason for the termination. The labor relationship also means employees have the right to leave a job and not provide a basis for quitting.
It is not just the leverage of terminating an employee that gives companies the legal upper hand in labor relationships. At-will employment agreements permit companies to alter the terms of the employer-employee relationship, without first giving workers a notice. For example, a company can change its benefits policy, as well as reduce overtime pay, as long as the new pay structure adheres to federal government guidelines for overtime compensation.
At-Will Employment and Formal Labor Contract
At-will employment is considered the default labor agreement model for American workers in every state besides Montana. However, it is possible to alter an at-will employment agreement by including a formal contract.
A formal labor contract signed by both the employer and employee has a clause that states an employer can terminate a worker only for cause. Labor contracts typically evolve from at-will employment agreements for highly compensated managers and workers that a company considers vital for operations.
How Does Ohio Treat At-Will Employment?
Ohio employment law also includes an exception for formal labor contracts that supersede the legal power of at-will employment agreements. Here are four additional exceptions to at-will employment agreements that Ohio employment law allows.
Ohio law states a formal written contract is not required in cases that involve revocation of an at-will employment agreement. Information presented in an employee handbook, verbal employment discussions initiated by supervisors, and written amendments to the content found in an employee handbook all constitute examples of implied contract modifications of an at-will employment agreement in Ohio.
State and Federal Laws
A large number of state and federal laws forbid employers from terminating employees for discriminatory reasons. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 lists the reasons why employers cannot fire workers, including age, race, gender, and religion.
Other state and federal laws that are not bound to the at-will employment labor doctrine include whistleblower and workers’ compensation statutes.
Public Policy Doctrine
Employers in the Buckeye State cannot fire employees for following long-established public policies. An employee terminated for serving on a jury has the right to sue his or her employer for violating a commonly accepted public policy directive. Any act that is considered an essential public policy initiative takes precedence over at-will employment agreements.
This fancy legal term is a highly contested exception to the at-will employment labor model. Promissory estoppel means an employee has reasonable cause to do something based on an oral or a written decree established by the employer. For instance, an employer puts in writing that an employee can be suspended for not acquiring a specialized license, and then have employment restored for obtaining the license.
An Ohio licensed employment attorney can help you determine whether your employer violated a state or federal labor law.
James Schroeder is an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia focusing on real estate, estate planning, business and nonprofit law. He maintains offices in Sardinia Ohio and Egg Harbor City New Jersey. You may reach him at (973) 886-4563 or (609) 270-7590. Most of his clients come from Sardinia, Mount Orab, Georgetown, Russellville, West Union, Peebles and Seaman in Ohio and Egg Harbor City, Hammonton, Port Republic, Galloway and Mullica Township in New Jersey but if you are from anywhere in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia can call to discuss your legal issues.