Leave, Lose, and Law

Your rights when you quit or are fired from work in Ohio

People lose their jobs every day in Ohio. Some choose to leave their employer voluntarily. Others are laid off or terminated “for cause” (i.e. fired). In general, employment is “at-will” under Ohio law, meaning the employer or employee is free to end the relationship at any time, for any reason, unless there is a previous agreement in effect.
There are other circumstances where a nominally at-will termination is illegal. Most of these exceptions involve some sort of public policy. For instance, you cannot be fired for taking time off from work to perform jury duty. And both federal and state anti-discrimination laws prevent employee terminations based on certain protected characteristics, such as race, sex, or disability.
“There are always exceptions, but I would say, if you’re given the option to either quit or be fired, force them to terminate you,” says Sean H. Sobel, an employment attorney at Sobel, Wade & Mapley in Cleveland. “Then, in terms of unemployment benefits and a future lawsuit—if you feel as though you’ve been discriminated or retaliated against—the employer is on the record of saying they actually terminated you.”

Receiving Your Final Paycheck and Accrued Vacation Pay

Regardless of the circumstances of your departure, your employer must still pay you any final wages for hours that you actually worked. This payment should normally be made at the end of the regular pay period for that job–but in no event more than 30 days after your employment ends. Keep in mind, if you give two weeks notice of your intention to quit—and assuming you are an at-will employee not under contract—your employer is free to terminate your employment immediately. The employer is not obligated to let you keep working (and earn pay) for those two weeks.
Depending on your employer, you may also be entitled to any unused vacation pay that you accrued prior to the end of your employment. Under Ohio law, vacation pay is considered a “deferred payment of an earned benefit.” This means you are typically entitled to receive any such “deferred” payments as part of your final paycheck.
But this depends on the actual written policies established by the employer. “If they have an employee handbook that says, ‘Upon termination or resignation, you are entitled to your vacation,’ courts in Ohio have found that that is binding,” says Sobel. “If they don’t have a written policy, they can say, ‘You’re fired,’ and most courts do not say you’re guaranteed vacation.”
Many employers will issue employee handbooks that clearly state any unused vacation time is forfeited at the end of employment, regardless of whether the employee quits or is fired. In other cases vacation pay is only lost if the employee is terminated for “just cause,” such as workplace misconduct. A qualified Ohio employment attorney can review your situation and help you determine the applicable law for your situation.

Are You Eligible for Ohio Unemployment Benefits?

If you lose your job through no fault of your own, you are normally entitled to collect Ohio unemployment insurance benefits. The phrase “no fault of your own” can be confusing. If you are laid off due to lack of available work–say your position in the company is abolished—that is clearly not your fault. But if you choose to quit your job, you are not eligible for unemployment benefits unless you can demonstrate you left due to a “just cause,” such as your employer violated the terms of your employment contract. Conversely, if you are terminated for just cause, you claim for unemployment benefits will likely be denied.
“In most cases, unemployment is not available to those who quit their job voluntarily,” says Sobel. “The best advice is: If you’re unsure on whether or not you’re entitled to benefits, you can always talk to an attorney.”
For more information about this area, see our overviews on employment law for employees and and wrongful termination.

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