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Ohio Supreme Court upholds workers’ rights in employer retaliation case

On Behalf of | Aug 1, 2016 | Workers' Compensation

In Ohio, it is illegal for an employer to fire, demote or retaliate against an employee simply because he or she files or pursues a workers’ compensation claim. While this anti-retaliation law is one of the bedrocks of Ohio’s workers compensation system, its application was recently questioned in case before the Ohio Supreme Court.

In the opinion titled Onderko v. Sierra Lobo, Inc., the court was asked to decide whether injured employees who have been retaliated against by their bosses must first prove their injuries occurred at work before they can file a claim under Ohio’s workers’ compensation anti-retaliation statute. The court determined they do not – thereby protecting the rights of Ohio workers and preventing them from having to choose between their jobs and workers’ comp benefits they deserve.

Proving employer retaliation

While, in this case, there was some dispute about whether or not the employee’s injuries were actually work-related, the court said, in effect, it didn’t matter. In fact, according to the plain language of the retaliation statue, the court determined that a prima facie case for retaliation requires an employee to prove only the following:

  • The employer discharged, demoted, reassigned or took any other form of punitive action against the employee
  • This punitive action was taken in retaliation for the employee’s filing of a workers’ compensation claim or pursuing/testifying in any workers’ comp proceeding

As you can see, there is no requirement that the injured employee actually prove that his or her injuries were work-related. Indeed, in its decision, the court cited the opinion of the appeals court, which said,

“Requiring an employee to successfully prove that the injury occurred at work for purposes of a retaliatory-discharge claim would have a chilling effect on the exercise of his or her rights because the employee would be forced to choose between a continuation of employment and the submission of a workers’ compensation claim. This choice must be made by the employee knowing that if he or she fails to prove that the cause of the injury was work related, not only will his or her claim be denied, but the employer would then be free to terminate the employment simply because the claim was filed.”

The Ohio Supreme Court also went on to say, “We resist interpreting the anti-retaliation statute in such a way that would vest employers with the discretion to label any unsuccessful claim as deceptive and then terminate the employee.”

In the end, this decision is a victory for all employees who suffer from retaliation by their employers simply because they seek the workers comp benefits they are entitled to.