American Public Policy Exception to Employment at-will

posted by Neil Klingshirn  |  Jul 29, 2009 6:26 PM [EST]  |  applies to Ohio

In states that adopt the public policy exception to employment at will, public policy warrants an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine when an employer discharges or disciplines an employee for a reason prohibited by constitution, statute or other expression of clear public policy.  As a result, an employee discharged in violation of a law that prohibits an employer from discharging or disciplining an employee on the basis of a wage withholding order, but which did not expressly authorize an employee suit, could pursue a claim as a result of his termination.  Court hold in such circumstances that the legislature could not have intended to leave an employee discharged in violation of such a statute without an available remedy.

Elements of the Public Policy Exception

Typical elements of the public policy exception to an employment at will claim are:
  1. That clear public policy existed and was manifested in a state or federal constitution, statute or administrative regulation, or in the common law (the clarity element).

  2. That dismissing employees under circumstances like those involved in the plaintiff's dismissal would jeopardize the public policy (the jeopardy element).

  3. The plaintiff's dismissal was motivated by conduct related to the public policy (the causation element).

  4. The employer lacked overriding legitimate business justification for the dismissal (the overriding justification element).

Restrictions on the Public Policy Exception

Some states treat public policy exception claims as providing a cumulative remedy in addition to the remedy provided by the statute.  Those states allow the employee to obtain the remedy provided by the statute, plus the lost wages, benefits or other remedies available under a public policy exception claim.

Other states limit the reach of public policy exception claims to statutes that contain no remedy for an employee injured by the employer's violation of the statute.  Under this test, the availability of some remedy, even though incomplete will bar a more expansive claim for a public policy exception.  For example, even though the Family and Medical Leave Act has no compensatory or punitive damages available for a violation, the Ohio Supreme court barred a public policy claim because the of the availability of at least some remedy.

In a related vein, if a state's supreme court concludes that the legislature intended the remedy provisions in the statute to be an essential part of it, and those remedies adequately protect society’s interest, it will not recognize a public policy exception based on such statute. 

posted by Neil Klingshirn  |  Jul 29, 2009 6:26 PM [EST]  |  applies to Ohio

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Neil Klingshirn

Neil Klingshirn
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Independence, OH
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