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Quick and Easy Guide to Labor & Employment Law: Ohio

This state-specific guide covers labor and employment case law, statutes, rules, and regulations that HR professionals and clients often encounter or have questions about in Ohio.

Disclaimer: These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be substituted for the advice of legal counsel.

Guide last updated October 2022.

At-Will Employment

Ohio is an employment-at-will state, which means that in the absence of a written employment agreement or a collective bargaining agreement, either the employer or the employee may terminate employment for any reason that is not contrary to law. Wiles v. Medina Auto Parts, 773 N.E.2d 526, 529 (Ohio 2002).

Ohio recognizes an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine when the termination of an employee clearly violates public policy. Sutton v. Tomco Machining, Inc., 950 N.E.2d 938 (Ohio 2011). The existence of such a public policy may be discerned by the courts based on sources such as the Ohio and United States constitution, legislation, and administrative rules and regulations, as well as common law. Id. An employer's right to terminate an otherwise at-will relationship may also be limited by an implied contract where the facts and circumstances may imply a contract, even if the employer does not provide a written employment agreement. Dunn v. Bruzzese, 874 N.E.2d 1221 (Ohio Ct. App. 2007). Establishing an implied contract of employment requires proof of all the elements of a contract. Id.

In addition, an Ohio employer's right to terminate an otherwise at-will relationship may be limited by promises made to the employee within the doctrine of promissory estoppel. Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 483 N.E.2d 150 (1985). Ohio recognizes the promissory estoppel exception when the employer makes an unambiguous and clear promise of continued employment on which the employer should have reasonably expected its employee to rely, and the employee relied on the promise to their detriment. Id.

Right-to-Work Law

In Ohio, individuals have a right to work that cannot be denied or abridged on account of their membership or non-membership in a labor union or organization of employers. Ohio Rev. Code § 4113.02.

Immigration Verification

Ohio places no additional employment verification procedures on employers beyond Federal I-9 compliance. There is no requirement to use E-Verify under Ohio state laws.

Drug Testing

Ohio has not enacted any general employment drug- or alcohol-testing laws. However, Ohio employers working as federal contractors are required to provide a drug-free workplace (See 41 U.S.C. § 8102)

Ohio law requires drug testing for contractors working on public improvement contracts and for ambulance driver applicants for licensed medical transportation companies. See Ohio Rev. Code § 153.03(B); Ohio Rev. Code § 4766.15(A)(3).

Jury Duty Leave

It is unlawful for an employer to persuade or attempt to persuade any juror to avoid jury service; intimidate or threaten any juror in that respect; or remove or otherwise subject an employee to an adverse employment action as a result of jury service if the employee provides reasonable notice of their absence to serve on a jury. Ohio Rev. Code § 2313.19(A). It is also unlawful for an employer to require or request an employee to use annual, vacation, or sick leave for time spent responding to a summons for jury duty. Id. § 2313.19(B). Ohio state law does not require the employer to compensate the employee for time taken to serve on a jury. Id.

Voting Leave

Ohio law prohibits employers from terminating or threatening to terminate an employee for taking a reasonable amount of time to vote on an election day. Ohio Rev. Code § 3599.06. Ohio law does not specify whether an employer may designate the hours used for voting leave. Id.

An employer who violates this law may be required to pay a fine of not less than $50 but no more than $500. Id.

Parental Leave

The Ohio Civil Rights Act, which applies to all employers with four or more employees, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Ohio Revised Code § 4112.02. The regulations interpreting this law (contained in the Ohio Administrative Code) prohibit employers from penalizing employees because they need time off work for pregnancy or childbirth. Ohio Admin. Code § 4112-5-05.

Ohio employers with four or more employees must grant a reasonable amount of leave to eligible female employees for pregnancy-related disabilities and childbirth. Ohio Revised Code § 4112.02; Ohio Admin. Code 4112-5-05.

The State of Ohio grants up to six weeks of leave for birth or adoption for full- and part-time state employees who work 30 or more hours per week. Ohio Rev. Code § 124.136(A)(1). To qualify for leave, an employee must listed on the child's birth certificate or be a legal guardian of, and reside with, the child. Ohio Rev. Code § 124.136(A)(2).

Leave may not be more than six consecutive weeks, which shall include four workweeks or paid leave for full-time employees and a pro-rated amount of paid leave for part-time employees. Ohio Rev. Code § 124.136(C). There is a 14-day waiting period during which employees will not receive paid leave. During the remaining four weeks, employees will receive 70 percent of their base rate of pay. Ohio Rev. Code § 124.136(C). Parental leave is counted against FMLA entitlement. Ohio Rev. Code § 124.136(D).

Other Leave

Ohio law does not require private employers to provide employees with vacation, bereavement, or sick leave, either paid or unpaid. If an employer chooses to provide such benefits, it must comply with the terms of its established policy or employment contract. However, employers are subject to the federal Family Medical Leave Act and its requirements.

Smoking Laws

In Ohio, smoking is prohibited throughout the entire indoor workplace and outside immediately adjacent to entrances or exits to the building. Ohio Rev. Code § 3794.02. An employer may designate the entire workplace as non-smoking. Smoking is permitted outdoors, including outdoor patios that are physically separate from enclosed areas, as long as windows and doors prevent migration of smoke into enclosed areas.

Ohio law requires employers to post "No Smoking" signs or the international "No Smoking" symbol at each entrance to the workplace. All signs must contain a telephone number for reporting violations. Ohio Rev. Code 3794.06(A).

Break Time to Express Milk

Ohio law does not require employers to provide nursing mothers with breaks to express breast milk. However, employers are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act requirement to provide basic accommodations for breastfeeding mothers at work.

Meal Breaks

Ohio law requires employers to provide employees under the age of 18 years a 30-minute uninterrupted break when working more than five consecutive hours. Ohio Rev. Code § 4109.07.

Minimum Wage, Overtime, and Wage Recordkeeping

Ohio has set minimum wage at not less than $9.30 per hour. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.02. This rate is adjusted annually according to the Consumer Price Index. Ohio Const. Art. II, § 34a. Employers must still comply with federal wage laws and regulations. The employer can pay tipped employees $4.65 per hour if the employee's tips bring the total hourly wage up to the state minimum wage.

Provisions governing overtime pay can be found under Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.03. Generally, if an employee works more than 40 hours, the employee must be compensated at a rate of one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay. This does not apply to agricultural employees. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.03.

Employers are not required to pay overtime on activities that are preliminary or postliminary to the principal employment activity, and activities requiring insubstantial or insignificant periods of time beyond the employee's scheduled working hours also are not subject to overtime pay. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.031. However, such exceptions do not apply if the employee performs the task during the regular workday or during prescribed hours or performs the task at the employer's specific direction. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.031(B).

Further, the overtime exemption does not apply when the employee performs the activity pursuant to an express provision of a written or unwritten contract or collective bargaining agreement, or when the employee performs the activity pursuant to a custom or practice applicable to the activity at the establishment or other place where the employee is employed and the custom or practice is not inconsistent with an applicable contract or collective bargaining agreement. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.031(B).

Every employer shall make and keep a record of the name, address and occupation of each of their employees, the rate of pay, the amount paid each pay period to each employee, and hours worked each day and each work week for a period of at least three years, available for copying and inspection by the director of the Ohio Department of Commerce. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.08.

An employee may not be joined as a party plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging a violation of Ohio's overtime requirement unless that employee first gives written consent to become a party plaintiff and the consent is filed with the court in which the lawsuit was filed. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.10(C).

Final Payments

The State of Ohio requires employers to issue an employee's final paycheck on the next regular payday or within 15 days of the date of termination, whichever is earlier. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4113.15.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance benefits provide income to individuals who have lost work through no fault of their own. The benefits are intended to partially offset the loss of wages while an unemployed worker searches for suitable work or until an employer can recall the employee to work. Nothing is deducted from the employee's wages to pay for this coverage. Ohio Admin. Code § 4141-1-01. Unemployment benefits are administered by Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services, and additional information regarding the benefits may be accessed on the Department's website.

Workers' Compensation

Under the Ohio Workers' Compensation Act (OWCA), all Ohio employers that are not self-insured must pay insurance premiums for exclusive coverage with the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (OBWC). This coverage includes indemnity and medical benefits for injury, occupational disease, and death claims that have occurred in the course of, and arising out of, employment. Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.54. Certain employers may be exempted from this requirement if they are approved for self-insured status. Ohio Rev. Code 4123.35(B).

Employers not approved for self-insured status are known as state fund employers. A state fund or self-insured employer must post their Certificate of Coverage in a highly visible location in the workplace. Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.54. Furthermore, Ohio employers cannot opt out of workers' compensation coverage. The Ohio workers' compensation law is compulsory and is the exclusive remedy for employment injuries. Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.01.

Child Labor

Except in limited situations, children 13 years old or younger may not work in Ohio. Youth who are 14 or 15 years old may work in a broader range of jobs but are significantly limited in the number of hours per day and per week they may work, especially when school is in session. Youth who are 16 or 17 years old may work in a broad range of jobs but cannot work in those jobs that have been explicitly deemed to be too hazardous. Ohio Rev. Code § 4109.02.

Gun Laws

Under Ohio law, public and private employers cannot establish, maintain, or enforce any policy or rule that prohibits a person with a valid concealed handgun license from storing the firearm or ammunition in the person's privately owned motor vehicle that is parked in a permitted location on the employer's property. An employer may require that employees lock firearms and ammunition in the trunk, glove box, or another enclosed compartment or container within the privately owned vehicle. Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.1210.

Concealed weapons are banned from government buildings (including police stations, jails, and courtrooms), airports and airplanes, places of worship, or any place where the carrying of a concealed weapon is prohibited by federal law.

Additional Laws and Regulations

Equal pay

The Ohio Equal Pay Law (EPL) prohibits discrimination in the payment of wages based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, or ancestry for jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility and are performed under similar conditions. The EPL also prohibits retaliating against an employee for alleging a violation of the Equal Pay Law or participating as a witness in an equal pay claim proceeding. Ohio Rev. Code § 4111.17.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio law authorizes the use of medical marijuana. However, employers are not required to permit or accommodate use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana by their employees Ohio Rev. Code § 3796.28(A)(1).

Ohio law does not prohibit employers from refusing to hire, discharging, disciplining, or otherwise taking an adverse employment action against a person due to that person's use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana. Ohio employers are permitted to enforce a drug-testing policy, drug-free workplace policy, or zero-tolerance drug policy. Ohio Rev. Code § 3796.28(A)(2)-(3).

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