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Attorney Matthew Weisenburger
Cline, Cook, and Weisenburger Co., L.P.A.
300 Madison Ave. Suite 1100
Toledo, Ohio 43604
Federal law states that employers don't have to go with the most qualified applicant. Employers cannot discriminate, however, on certain non-job-related personal characteristics. Any issues related to race, sex, religion, national origin or disability are completely off-limits in job-related decisions.
During an interview, questions related to marital status, children, place of birth, sexual orientation and criminal record aren't allowed. The interviewer can, however, ask about the following if they directly affect the job's requirements:
- Have you ever been convicted of a crime (as opposed to "Have you ever been arrested")?
- Can you prove your eligibility to work in the US?
- Can you perform this job with or without "reasonable accommodations"?
Previous employers can answer any non-confidential questions about an employee, as long as it's true and isn't meant to deliberately harm the employee. Former employers who provide false or malicious information about an employee can be liable for slander or defamation. Many employers limit their exposure to liability by only confirming date of hire and separation and salary information (not the former employee's performance.
Ohio employees are presumed to have "at-will" status, meaning they can be terminated for any legal reason. Employees under contract can be terminated only if they violate their contract agreements.
Employee handbooks, while not required by law, are usually a good idea nonetheless. An employee handbook is recognized way of laying out the employer's policies and procedures so that employees know exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect in return. The areas usually covered in an employee handbook include:
- A statement defining the at-will nature of employment
- A statement on equal opportunity
- The company's sexual harassment policy
- Policies regarding internet, email and voice mail access
- Compliance with the Family Medical Leave Act
While an employee handbook doesn't constitute an employment contract, but in many cases they can be considered a sort of ad hoc contract by making clear the employer's basic policies and procedures. Laws about an employer's obligations under an employee handbook can be complex; often a licensed attorney is the authority to go to in such matters.
Federal and state laws prescribe that employers keep their place of employment free from any hazards that are likely to cause injury or death to employees. The laws also provide for employees to registered complaints to federal or state agencies about an unsafe work environment and be immune to retaliation from their employer.
Ohio worker's compensation laws provide for a fixed monetary formula to compensate employees who have been injure or killed on the job, without having to go to court and litigation. In most cases, the dependents of a fatally injured employee can receive benefits. Limits placed on the amount of the employee's recovery are in place to protect employers.
The following formulas spell out the amount of compensation an employee is entitled to, depending on the nature of his/her disability:
- Permanent total disability: generally 66 2/3% of the employee's average weekly wage
Temporary total disability: generally 66 2/3 of the employee's average weekly wage, up to 200 weeks
Partial disability: generally 66 2/3% of the employee's average weekly wage, up to the number of weeks which equals the percentage of 200 weeks
Ohio's workers' compensation system is premised on a trade-off between employees and employers. Ohio's worker's compensation laws are based on a compromise between employee and employer. While employees are entitled to prompt worker's comp benefits for injuries, the limits on the benefits are there to protect the employer, even in cases where the employer was negligent or liable.
Ohio's Burea of Workers' Compensation handles the administrative and insurance end of the worker's comp system, while the Industrial Commission deals with claims and adjudication.
Employers have a responsibility to maintain a workplace free from sexual harassment, such as unwelcome advances, conduct or sexually-oriented physical or verbal acts. Sexual advances or statements, promotions or other benefits in exchange for sex or an overtly-sexual work environment are generally considered sexual harassment. Sexual harassment or discrimination claims are addressed by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. This is only a broad overview; due to the complexity of the laws, a licensed attorney should be consulted in individual cases.
Discrimination and Wrongful Termination
Age, race, sex, religion, national origin, disability or pregnancy are strictly off-limits when it comes to terminating an employee. It's also illegal for an employer to take any of those factors into consideration for promotions, job assignments or wages. Employees also cannot be terminated:
- for refusing to break a law
- as reprisal for a discrimination or safety claim
- taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
- without following the company's own procedures and policies
- any reasons not spelled out in the employment contract
Family and Medical Leave
Federal law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave (with benefits) and to be able to come back to their original job when they return. FMLA applies to employees who:
- Have 12 months' time on the job
- Have at least 1250 hours over those 12 months
- Are employed in a government job, or with an employer with 50 or more employees
Unemployment benefits are paid out based on federal and state laws both. Ohio's unemployment system is administered by the state and covers employees who have been terminated through no fault of their own. Employees who quit for "good cause" may also be entitled to monetary compensation. The state's unemployment benefits are administered by the Department of Job and Family Services, Bureau of Unemployment Compensation Benefits. The program's funds come from employer taxes; employees cannot be forced to contribute to the program through payroll deductions.
Federal law mandates that employees be allowed to continue their health insurance (at their own expense) for up to 18 months after leaving a job, if the employer has at least 20 employees. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act covers employees, their spouses and dependents in cases where the employee has been terminated for reasons other than gross misconduct, or when their hours have been cut.