In the midst of an ongoing pandemic and all of the questions it’s raised for employers, especially small business employers,* you may have missed a new Ohio employment law that’s about to take effect. The governor recently signed the Employment Law Uniformity Act into law. As an employer, what do you need to know about this new law? What steps should you take to protect your business or nonprofit in light of these changes?
Bringing Employment Discrimination Lawsuits
The new law will shorten the time employees have to bring claims of workplace discrimination. Previously, the statute of limitations for these cases was 6 years. The new law shortens this to just 2 years. It also requires employees to file their claims with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”) and obtain what is known as a “right to sue” letter before filing a case in court. Previously, filing a charge with the OCRC was effectively optional. As a result, if you had multiple employees making similar allegations of discrimination, you could find your business facing multiple cases in different venues. With the new law, the OCRC can consolidate these cases together, potentially streamlining the process and resolving claims before expensive litigation is filed.
Defending Hostile Work Environment Claims
As an employer, if you “allow” or fail to prevent harassment or discrimination in your workplace, both you and your business or nonprofit can be named in a subsequent lawsuit. Essentially, the argument is that as the employer, you allowed a hostile work environment to exist. Under the new law, employers, you won’t be responsible for hostile work environment claims if the employer can prove:
Minimizing the Risk of Personal Liability
Ohio’s Fair Employment Practices Act (O.R.C. 4112.02) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, or ancestry. The law defined “employer” as any person who employed four (4) or more people and “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer.” As a result, the Ohio Supreme Court held that “individual supervisors and managers [were] accountable for their own discriminatory conduct occurring in the workplace environment.” Genaro v. Cent. Transport, Inc, 68 Ohio St. 3d 293, 300 (1999). In other words, if an employee claimed discrimination, the employee could sue both the employer and their supervisor or manager.
Owners of the business are often counted as “employees” for purposes of reaching the 4 or more threshold.
Under the new law, merely being a supervisor or manager should not be enough to find yourself named in a discrimination lawsuit. However, supervisors and managers will still be personally liable in certain situations:
* More Firm guidance is available here. You can also check out pandemic-related employer resources from the CDC, EEOC, and NFIB.
The new Employment Law Uniformity Act takes effect April 12, 2021. If you
have questions about your employment policies,