Ohio’s New Employment Law Uniformity Act
On January 12, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Ohio House Bill 352. The new Employment Law Uniformity Act (the “Act”) will be effective from April 12, 2021 and will apply to all future employment discrimination claims filed on or after that date. The Act aims to make procedural reforms to the employment discrimination claims in Ohio. Some of the key changes made by the Act are:
- Time limit to file a claim: The time limit to file employment discrimination lawsuits has been reduced from 6 years to 2 years by the Act.
- Age discrimination claims: The Act streamlines the procedure to file age discrimination claims in Ohio, eliminating the alternative avenues which were available earlier. Earlier multiple statutes were dealing with age discrimination claims, each with its separate procedure and remedies. Now, all age discrimination claims must be filed within the 2-year limit.
- Administrative remedies: Under the Act, the employees must exhaust the administrative remedies available to them before filing a lawsuit. This means that the employee must first file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) before filing a lawsuit. Employees must get a “right to sue” letter from the OCRC, however, they may apply to seek injunctive relief beforehand. This law is in line with the procedure followed under the federal law. The time limit for filing a charge with the OCRC has been increased from 180 days to 2 years.
- Statutory affirmative defence: The Act provides a statutory affirmative defence to employers in claims related to hostile work environment or sexual harassment. The employers can claim this defence if:
- The employer had a strong harassment policy in place;
- The employer properly informed the employees about such policy;
- The employer showed reasonable care to prevent or correct the harassing behaviour;
- The employee failed to take advantage of such preventive or corrective measures.
This defence is also known as the “Faragher-Ellerth defence” and was developed in two landmark decisions. Earlier there was no such statutory affirmative defence available to the employer.
- Cap on compensation: Under the previous law there was no cap on punitive or compensatory damages. The Act defines discrimination claims as “tort claims” implying that these claims will now be subject to the caps placed under Ohio’s Tort Law. Although, there is no cap on the plaintiff’s economic loss such as lost wages.
- Supervisor’s liability- The Act provides that individual supervisors or managers cannot be held personally liable when they are acting within the scope of their employment and using sound judgement. Thus, the scope for supervisors’ personal liability has been largely eliminated.
However, supervisors can be held liable if it is found that they were acting beyond the scope of their employment; the supervisor is the employer; or the supervisor retaliated against the employee. This protection was not available under the previous law.
The changes made by the Act to Ohio’s employment discrimination laws affect the rights of both the employers and employees. It clarifies the position of law on many aspects including age discrimination claims, thereby reducing the scope for confusion. Further, the statutory requirement to file charges with the OCRC will reduce frivolous lawsuits. These changes made by the Act strike a balance between the rights of employers and employees. The Act also aligns Ohio’s employment discrimination laws with federal law.