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In 2023, Ohio’s unemployment rate hit its lowest — at 3.3% — since 1976. In line with this, the state has over five million residents with jobs, most in non-agricultural industries and the private sector.  

Both state and federal laws govern the employment relationship between these workers and their employers. These laws lay down the protections granted to both parties, their rights, and the rules they need to follow — with certain provisions and penalties for violating the legislation.  

Employment laws apply to all workers in Ohio. It safeguards them from retaliation, discrimination, and unsafe workplaces. Moreover, it gives them the right to secure workers’ compensation, overtime and minimum wage, and unemployment insurance.

Meanwhile, the state’s labor laws offer additional rights to members of unions and those under collective bargaining agreements. The Ohio Employment Relations Act, for instance, protects employees from wrongful termination based on their agreement clauses; however, some issues can only be enforced through a lawsuit.

To have a deeper understanding of the state’s employment and labor laws, this article tackles a range of topics — from minimum wage requirements and restrictions on minor workers to actions against employers who committed wrongful termination.

Ohio Minimum Wage Laws

For the year 2023, $10.10 is the set hourly minimum wage rate in Ohio for non-tipped employees and those who do not earn over $30 in tips monthly. Meanwhile, tipped workers who receive more than $30 in tips monthly have a minimum wage rate of $5.05 per hour.

Employers with over $375,000 in gross receipts must pay their employees, including minors, the state minimum wage rate. Meanwhile, those with less than $375,000 in earnings are required to pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The director of the Ohio Department of Commerce is responsible for adjusting these rates annually.

Do note that the workers below are exempt from the minimum wage requirements:

  • Individuals who are compensated through commissions.

  • Family members working in a family-run business.

  • Individuals who volunteer for a public entity.

  • Individuals who babysit in their employer’s home or those hired as companions without doing household chores.

  • Individuals who perform services for nonprofit organizations or charitable institutions. 

Subminimum Wage

Under Ohio legislation, businesses can hire individuals with physical or mental health impairments and provide them with a sub-minimum hourly wage rate of $4.25. However, the rate these workers can receive can be lower depending on their performance. 

To be granted this special provision, employers are required to acquire one of the following licenses:

  • On-the-Job Training for Individuals.

  • Sheltered Workshop Program. 

  • Individual Program Rate in a Facility.

  • Work Activity Center Program.

Prevailing Wage

Ohio prevailing wage laws mandate employers of construction trade workers or those who work on public projects to provide prevailing wages, overtime payments, and benefits based on the area where they are working.

For instance, electricians working in Muskingum County shall receive a prevailing wage of $36.45 per hour and a fringe benefit of $23.96 per hour. Like most workers, they are also entitled to an overtime payment of 1.5 times their base wage, given after 40 hours of duty per week on a project.

The state’s Bureau of Wage and Hour Administration determines if the prevailing wage rate applies to a project based on its specifications. For example, this rate system is applied to new construction projects that cost $250,000 or more, as well as reconstruction projects with a minimum value of $75,000.

Ohio Work Hour Laws

In Ohio, there is no established state law on how many hours a day or a week an employee can perform their work duties. Nevertheless, full-time employees normally work for no less than 40 hours weekly.

Employers are not legally required to provide rest periods, except for lactating mothers protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Additionally, employers are not legally mandated to offer meal breaks unless the employee is 17 years old or younger; they must have at least a 30-minute rest every five hours of continuous work. 

Meanwhile, adult workers may have 15 minutes of mealtime and 15 minutes of rest periods during the entire eight-hour work time arranged by their employer. They can combine their break time with their lunch period as long as their duties are not physically or mentally draining and their workplace is not excessively cold, hot, or dusty.

Short rest breaks of 20 minutes or less are compensated, and unused ones are not cumulative. On the other hand, lunch breaks lasting 30 minutes or more are not payable unless the employee gets interrupted during this period. A one-hour meal time plus rest periods are also not allowed.  

Overtime Rules

Under the Ohio Administrative Code, all employees must be paid 1.5 times their regular wage rate for duties performed outside the 40-hour work week. 

However, the following individuals are not entitled to overtime payments:

  • Administrative or bona fide executive employees who earn over $107,432 annually.

  • Workers who conduct performance reviews and interview candidates.

  • Workers with authority to hire and fire employees.

  • Workers across the science, engineering, medicine, and accounting industries.

  • Workers in the art and entertainment sectors, including musicians and authors.

  • Workers who regularly perform tasks outside their employers’ premises, excluding those who work from home.

In Ohio, employees who worked overtime can receive their payment through immediate cash or compensatory time off. Salaried staff who prefer compensatory time off can have a maximum of 248 accumulated hours. Meanwhile, public safety workers, like police officers and security guards, and those who are protected under the FLSA of 1938 can garner up to 480 hours. 

Flexible-hour workers are not eligible for compensation for overtime duty unless their employers require them to be in an active pay status for over 40 hours in a week.

The following activities are also not covered by overtime pay unless done during one’s work hours or required by one’s employer:

  • Traveling to and from one’s workplace.

  • Checking emails or performing other activities that can be done very quickly after one’s work hours unless indicated in a written or unwritten contract.

  • Working on tasks before or after one’s principal activity unless required by the employer.

Ohio Minor Labor Laws

Ohio allows minors aged 14 to 17 to perform work duties. However, this entails certain restrictions involving wage agreements and rest periods. Employers should also keep their time records for two years and post a list of their minor employees in a visible area. 

Additionally, businesses should note that workers under the age of 16 are not allowed to work under the following conditions:

  • During school hours, except in certain instances.

  • For over eight hours a day or 40 hours a week when school is not in session.

  • Before 7 a.m. and after 9 p.m. during school break.

  • For over three hours on any school day.

Meanwhile, 16- and 17-year-olds are not allowed to work before 7 a.m. on a school day and after 11 p.m. on any night before a school day.

Minor employees are also not allowed to work in the manufacturing and mining industries, be exposed to radioactive substances, handle roofing operations, or load and unload goods on trucks. Occupations involving meatpacking, cooking, and driving are likewise prohibited.

Is Ohio an At-Will Employment State?

Ohio is an at-will employment state, which means both employers and employees have the freedom to end their employment relationship at any time for a reason that does not violate the law. However, the Ohio Supreme Court states several exemptions to the at-will employment principle in line with the following:

  • Employee handbooks: Employee handbooks or personnel manuals contain disciplinary procedures that may change the at-will clause for terminating an employee. Although it depends on the situation, a handbook presents valid contractual obligations.

  • Collective bargaining agreements and employment contracts: The at-will doctrine is not valid for an employment relationship with collective bargaining agreements, as it has its own terms and conditions on how an employer terminates someone.  

  • Public policy: An employer cannot fire an employee while violating a public policy. For example, a worker cannot be terminated because they took a leave to serve on a jury.

  • Promissory Estoppel: Workers protected by a written or verbal promise from their employer cannot be fired for no reason.

  • Federal laws: Employers are not allowed to terminate an employee for engaging in union activity, voting, or having a sealed criminal record.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Ohio?

Under the Ohio Civil Rights Act, employers cannot fire someone based on their race, national origin, color, or religion. Federal laws also prohibit the same act based on pregnancy status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and military status. Businesses that take this action against these protected classes are committing wrongful termination.

As stated above, it is also illegal to fire an employee while violating a public policy. Situations where this kind of wrongful termination applies include the following:

  • When an employee gets fired for being a witness to something unfavorable their employer did.

  • When an employee is fired because their wage deductions include court-ordered child support payments.

Moreover, employers are not allowed to terminate an employee as a form of retaliation for doing a certain act. This may involve reporting an underwage claim, an unsafe workplace, or sexual abuse at work to a regulatory board, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation.

Sometimes, retaliation may not result in termination and just take the form of denied promotions, sudden schedule changes, or other actions that force an employee to resign. In these types of cases, victims can file a constructive discharge lawsuit instead of a wrongful termination claim.  

On the other hand, employers have the right to not hire applicants for legitimate reasons, regardless of their protected characteristics. For employers with occupational qualifications certified by the Legislative Service Commission, these reasons include:

  • If a job ad indicates a preference for a specific race, sex, or age.

  • If a company has a rule that limits employment opportunities through a quota system.

  • If a potential employee refuses to show the required documentary proof of their U.S. citizenship.

How Do You Report an Employer in Ohio for Wrongful Termination?

Victims of wrongful termination can report their complaint to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission by submitting a filled-out charge form to the agency’s website or its office at 30 East Broad Street in Columbus. One is given two years to file a complaint, starting from when the workplace discrimination occurred.

Wrongfully terminated employees may also escalate the issue to the EEOC by submitting a charge of discrimination form between 180 and 300 days from the incident date.

However, before doing so, it is in one’s best interest to seek the assistance of an Ohio employment lawyer to understand the challenges involved, protect one’s rights, speed up the process, and obtain justice. This can also help an individual determine the right agency where a complaint must be filed.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Ohio?

According to the Employment Law Uniformity Act, employees have a two-year period from the incident date to file a wrongful termination claim stemming from retaliation and discrimination based on gender, religion, or national origin. However, this time limit will not begin while one’s complaint with the CRC is still in process. This is because complainants are required to submit the allegation report to the CRC before filing a civil action.

Employees who were terminated based on age discrimination have 180 days to file a claim. Meanwhile, victims of wrongful discharge resulting from violations of public policy have four years to pursue legal action, and cases stemming from breaches of contracts and written agreements should be filed within six years.

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Ohio for Wrongful Termination?

In Ohio, an average wrongful termination case can be settled for between $5,000 and $80,000. However, some victims may receive lower or higher compensation, depending on various factors.

Some of these factors include the value of their economic damages, such as lost wages and benefits and attorney’s fees, as well as non-economic damages, including pain and suffering. In Ohio, the amount of non-economic damages one can obtain is limited to $250,000 or triple the amount of economic damages up to $350,000, whichever is greater.

In specific instances, a victim may also receive a punitive award, which is double the amount of economic damages or 10% of the employer’s net worth up to $350,000.

Resources for Employees in Ohio

The following organizations and entities assist and educate low-income families, unemployed individuals, and people with disabilities throughout the Ohio employment legal system. It gives them employment opportunities, elevates their financial burden while unemployed, and protects their rights against workplace-related matters like discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.   

Legal Aid of Western Ohio Inc.

Legal Aid of Western Ohio is a nonprofit organization that provides employment opportunities to low-income individuals and those with criminal backgrounds. It also helps agricultural workers receive their entitled labor payments and pursue a sanitary living and working environment. The agency is reachable by phone at 877-894-4599 or by text telephone at 888-554-7415.

Unemployment Insurance Program

Launched by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Unemployment Insurance Program offers temporary income and benefits for those who lose their job without fault. Eligible applicants can obtain a weekly benefit between $157 and $757, depending on their earnings from their previous job and the number of their dependents. However, the stated amount can be reduced if they receive severance pay, workers’ compensation, and pensions. Individuals can contact 1-877-644-6562 to apply and ask for more information.   

Disability Rights Ohio

Disability Rights Ohio is a nonprofit corporation designated under federal law to serve as Ohio’s protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities. It strives to reduce prejudice by helping these individuals regain or secure employment. It also fights for the rights of those facing employment disputes, including discrimination and unpaid work incentives. The office is reachable at 614-466-7264 or 1-800-282-9181.

Community Refugee and Immigration Services

CRIS is an independent and nonprofit organization that focuses on serving immigrants and refugees in and around Ohio. The office launched the Career Service program, which offers employment opportunities, interview practice, individual employment counseling, and ESL classes. However, the program is exclusively for work-authorized asylees and immigrants who have been in the state for less than five years. Eligible individuals can contact the group at 614-235-5747 or visit its office at 4645 Executive Drive, Suite 102 in Columbus. 

American Civil Liberties Union, Ohio

The ACLU is a nonprofit organization that protects the rights of LGBTQIA+ members in Ohio. The facility works with the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Ohio, and Trans Ohio to support the Ohio Fairness Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in employment and public accommodation. It also provides legal counsel for those whose constitutional rights have been violated by the government. For more details, visit its 4506 Chester Avenue office in Cleveland.

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