While Ohio is an “at will” employment state, employees can maintain a common law cause of action against their employers for adverse employment actions prohibited by statute. A Greeley claim, in colloquial terms, requires the employee to show: (1) that a clear public policy exists and is manifest 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 employee’s dismissal would jeopardize the public policy (the “jeopardy element”); (3) the employee’s dismissal was motivated by conduct related to the public policy (the “causation element”); and (4) the employer lacked overriding legitimate business justification for the dismissal (the “overriding justification element”). For years, courts have struggled with defining just what type of public policy needs to be protected by a common law cause of action for wrongful termination, and thus support a Greeley claim.
Recently, the Supreme Court of Ohio revisited the issue in House v. Iacovelli, holding that “the jeopardy element is not met when statutes provide for the protection of the public policy, even when they provide no direct remedy for an employee herself.” 2020-Ohio-435 ¶ 16 (2020). In that case, the plaintiff, Christine House, worked at a restaurant owned by Bruce Iacovelli and claimed she was fired for complaining that Mr. Iacovelli was underreporting her income to the Ohio Bureau of Unemployment Compensation in violation of R.C. 4141. As a result, Ms. House would receive less unemployment benefits when the relationship ended.
In analyzing the public policy underpinning R.C. 4141, the court recognized that the General Assembly has provided sufficient remedies to discourage employers from inaccurately reporting employees’ pay and tips to the government, as well as punishing those who fail to comply with the statute. For example, the director of Jobs and Family Services can assess forfeitures (R.C. 4141.20(8)), the Attorney General may institute civil actions (R.C. 4141.27), and the non-compliant employer may be subject to criminal penalties (R.C. 4141.99). Because these alternative means of enforcement exist, there was no need to recognize a common law claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy even when Ms. House had no other recourse. Therefore, her wrongful termination claim failed as a matter of law.
In the wake of House, aggrieved employees will still have a common law cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, but it will be extremely important for employers to take a hard look at the statutory scheme surrounding the policies before addressing these claims. Highly regulated areas such as commerce, education, insurance, health, and taxation typically have administrative agencies tasked with enforcing and protecting the public interest reflected in those statutes. In turn, those protections may preclude a Greeley claim, and offer a means by which to quickly resolve the case. Reminger welcomes the chance to assist you with any employment-related claims. If you have questions, please contact a member of our Employment Practices Defense Practices Group.
 Greeley v. Miami Valley Maint. Constrs., Inc. 49 Ohio St.3d 228 (1990)
 Collins v. Rizkana, 73 Ohio St.3d 65 (1995)
 Coon v. Tech. Constr. Specialties, Inc. 2005-Ohio-4080, ¶ 5 (Ohio App. 9th Dist., Aug. 10, 2005) (explaining development of a common law claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.)
This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.
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