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What does Ohio's whistleblower statute protect?

The short answer is: not much. But a little.

A statute that requires you to do handstands and backflips through rings while meditating and levitating—and all in a certain order—before you are protected is usually not much comfort.

Ohio’s whistleblower statute—Revised Code 4113.52—is designed to protect employees from retaliation for reporting their employers’ (or their fellow employees’) criminal conduct.

But while broad in concept, the actual statute contains noteworthy procedural and substantive restrictions that severely limit its effectiveness.

Protection is available for reporting only certain narrow types of criminal offenses, and only if the reporting is done in the specific ways prescribed in the statute and after a “reasonable and good faith effort to determine the accuracy” of the reported information. An employee’s failure to make such an effort, indeed, can subject the employee to discipline.

Broadly speaking, an employee is eligible for protection (against termination, demotion, transfer, and certain other listed disciplinary actions) if he or she becomes aware of a violation of

  • any federal or state statute, or municipal ordinance or regulation, that
  • the employer has authority to correct, and that
  • the employee reasonably believes
    • is a criminal offense that is likely to cause an imminent risk of bodily harm to persons, or
    • poses a hazard to public health or safety, or
    • constitutes a felony, or
    • constitutes an improper solicitation for a contribution.

Assuming the employee identifies an offense satisfying those conditions, the employee, to enjoy the Ohio whistleblower statute’s protections, must

  • orally notify his or her supervisor or other responsible company officer, and then must
  • file with that supervisor or officer a detailed written report.

After receiving the oral and/or written report, the employer is required, within 24 hours, both to either correct the violation or make a reasonable and good-faith effort to do so and to notify the employee of such correction or efforts to correct. If the employer does not do both these things, the employee may file a detailed written report with one or more of the following:

  • the appropriate prosecuting authority for the county or municipality,
  • a peace officer,
  • the inspector general (if the violation is within his or her jurisdiction), or
  • any other public official or agency with regulatory authority over the employer and the relevant industry.

The Ohio whistleblower statute prohibits an employer from disciplining, or retaliating against, an employee for reporting criminal conduct in the manner the statute authorizes, or for taking steps to ensure the accuracy of the information so reported. It also authorizes a civil action against the employer (if brought within only 180 days of the discipline or retaliation) for injunctive and monetary relief, including attorneys’ fees and costs, for violations of this prohibition. It is the employee who may be subject to discipline, however, “for reporting information without a reasonable basis to do so …”

Unfortunately, in our experience, not all deserving whistleblowers appear able to meet the statute’s exacting procedural and timing requirements. It is unclear, for example, whether and how ex-employees can take advantage of the statute, since the prescribed internal reporting mechanisms are no longer available to them. And can an employer avoid liability by terminating an employee after receiving his or her oral report but before receiving his or her required written report?

Employees considering blowing the whistle should familiarize themselves with the statute and take care to ensure that its requirements are met. They should also consider whether other state or federal remedies, including industry-specific whistleblower-protection statutes, may be available to them.

The Chandra Law Firm has the knowledge and experience to assist employees in navigating these complex and nuanced issues.

Related Practice Areas
Employment RetaliationGovernment Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbuseWhistleblower Actions (False Claims Act)

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