On June 9, 2011, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.90 expresses a clear public policy against the retaliatory firing of an employee who suffers a workplace injury but has yet to file a workers’ compensation claim. This means that Ohio law recognizes a wrongful discharge claim in violation of public policy when an employee reports a workplace injury to his employer.
In Sutton v. Tomco Machining, Inc., the employer terminated the employee one hour after he reported a workplace injury. Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.90 provides: “No employer shall discharge, demote, reassign, or take any punitive action against any employee because the employee filed a claim or instituted, pursued or testified in any proceedings under the workers’ compensation act for an injury or occupational disease which occurred in the course of and arising out of his employment with that employer.” The Supreme Court of Ohio recognized that “R.C. 4123.90 does not expressly prohibit retaliation against injured employees who have not yet filed, instituted, or pursued a workers’ compensation claim. But it does expressly prohibit retaliation against injured workers who have filed, instituted, or pursued a workers’ compensation claim.” Clearly, the statute protects employees who file workers’ compensation claims, but is silent as to employees who suffer a workplace injury but have yet to file a workers’ compensation claim. The Supreme Court determined it was the intent of the General Assembly to protect those employees, as well.
The rationale behind the Supreme Court’s decision is that the intent of the law is not to permit employers to quickly act and terminate employees before they have a chance to file a workers’ compensation claim. The lesson for employers, as always, is to be cautious when terminating employees who recently suffered a workplace injury, and make sure there is a legitimate reason for the termination.