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What Does the Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act Cover?

September 27, 2019 | Posted in: Retaliation, Employment

The Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act makes it illegal for employers in the private and public sectors to punish or harass workers who report wrongdoing by their employer, boss or colleagues. An employee who does suffer retaliation for blowing the whistle on criminal or dangerous activities has rights under the whistleblower act to sue to get their job back and to receive monetary damages.

What the Law Says

Section 4113.51(A) of the Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) states

If an employee becomes aware in the course of the employee’s employment of a violation of any state or federal statute or any ordinance or regulation of a political subdivision that the employee’s employer has authority to correct, and the employee reasonably believes that the violation is a criminal offense that is likely to cause an imminent risk of physical harm to persons or a hazard to public health or safety, a felony, or an improper solicitation for a contribution, the employee orally shall notify the employee’s supervisor or other responsible officer of the employee’s employer of the violation and subsequently shall file with that supervisor or officer a written report that provides sufficient detail to identify and describe the violation. If the employer does not correct the violation or make a reasonable and good faith effort to correct the violation within twenty-four hours after the oral notification or the receipt of the report, whichever is earlier, the employee may file a written report that provides sufficient detail to identify and describe the violation with the prosecuting authority of the county or municipal corporation where the violation occurred, with a peace officer, with the inspector general if the violation is within the inspector general’s jurisdiction, or with any other appropriate public official or agency that has regulatory authority over the employer and the industry, trade, or business in which the employer is engaged.

In practical terms, an employee at a private company, school, or state or local government agency can invoke protections under this state statute when they

  • Notice a legal, ethical or regulatory violation by a manager, supervisor, executive, or coworker;
  • Honestly believe the violation is a crime, potential crime, or danger to health; and
  • Report the violation in writing to law enforcement, a regulatory agency, or an appropriate person in their organization.

Upon receiving a whistleblower report, the law enforcement group, regulatory agency or employer must conduct a good faith investigation to determine the accuracy of the report. When a report is corroborated, a solution should be implemented.

How Employers Might Retaliate Against Whistleblowers

O.R.C. 4113.51(B) lists the following adverse employment actions as examples of retaliation against a whistleblower:

  • Removing or suspending the employee from employment;
  • Withholding from the employee salary increases or employee benefits to which the employee is otherwise entitled;
  • Transferring or reassigning the employee;
  • Denying the employee a promotion that otherwise would have been received; [or]
  • Reducing the employee in pay or position.

Legal Options for Whistleblowers Who Suffer Retaliation

The Ohio Whistleblower Protection Act authorizes the following remedies for employees who suffer retaliation after reporting wrongdoing in their workplace:

  • Reinstatement to their previous position after being fired or demoted,
  • Payment of back pay,
  • Payment of back pay with interest if the retaliation is found to have been intentional,
  • Reinstallment of full benefits and seniority, and
  • Payment of attorney’s fees.

A Note on Federal Whistleblower Protections

People who live in Ohio while working for the U.S. government have protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8)-(9), Pub.L. 101-12). Like the Ohio statute, this federal law prohibits retaliation against workers who report violations of laws and regulations, misuse and waste of government funds, abuse of authority, or dangers to health and safety.

When a risk for injury or illness exists, people who report an issue may have whistleblower protections under one of more than 20 laws administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program, illegal retaliation against employees who report safety issues include

  • Firing or laying off;
  • Demoting;
  • Denying overtime or promotion;
  • Disciplining;
  • Denying benefits;
  • Failing to hire or rehire;
  • Intimidation or harassment;
  • Making threats;
  • Reassignment to a less desirable position or actions affecting prospects for promotion (such as excluding an employee from training meetings);
  • Reducing pay or hours;
  • More subtle actions, such as isolating, ostracizing, mocking, or falsely accusing the employee of poor performance;
  • Blacklisting (intentionally interfering with an employee’s ability to obtain future employment); or
  • Constructive discharge (quitting when an employer makes working conditions intolerable due to the employee’s protected activity).

Employment attorneys at The Friedmann Firm fight for whistleblowers. We offer free and confidential consultations, and we are available to work with employees before they bring their concerns over illegal or potentially harmful practices to the attention of law enforcement, regulators, or superiors. Let us know how we can help by calling us at (614) 610-9755 or scheduling an appointment online.