Ohio Passes Employment Law Uniformity Act Changing Workplace Discrimination Law

Ohio Passes Employment Law Uniformity Act Changing Workplace Discrimination Law

By Rachelle Kuznicki Zidar, Esq. and Matthew N. Danese, Esq.

On January 12, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed H.B. 352, the Employment Law Uniformity Act (“ELUA”), into law which revises several provisions of Ohio workplace discrimination law. The intent behind the new law is to clarify the administrative and procedural confusion regarding workplace discrimination claims for both employers and employees as it currently exists in the Ohio Revised Code.

Both employers and employees should be aware of several notable changes the ELUA makes to Ohio workplace discrimination law:

Reduces the Statute of Limitations. Previously, an employee could file a workplace discrimination claim six years after the alleged discriminatory acts. The new law reduces the statute of limitations to only two years. Conversely, while the prior law provided that certain discrimination claims must be filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”) within 180 days, the ELUA has extended the charge-filing period to two years. The statute of limitations period may be tolled for up to 60 days after the charge is no longer pending with the OCRC prior to bringing a civil lawsuit.

Requires Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies. For the majority of discrimination cases – with the exception of age discrimination – the new law will require an employee to “exhaust administrative remedies” prior to filing a civil lawsuit. This means a disgruntled employee alleging discrimination must first file an employment discrimination claim with the OCRC prior to filing a civil lawsuit. As such, prior to commencing any civil litigation the employee must obtain a “notice of right to sue” from the OCRC.

Changes Definition of “Employer.” The ELUA limits individual liability for supervisors and potentially other employees by changing the statutory definition of an “employer.” Previously, the Ohio Supreme Court interpreted the prior version’s statutory definition to extend workplace discrimination liability to individual supervisors and/or other employees acting on behalf of the employer. The ELUA expressly changes the definition to exclude individual liability of supervisors and/or other employees. However, nothing in the new statute abrogates any claims of liability that exist outside the ELUA against an individual supervisor or other employee for actions outside the scope of their employment.

Provides a new defense for employers. The new law further codifies a prior common law defense, which limits an employer’s liability for hostile work environment claims pursuant to the statute. That is, employers are now able to assert an affirmative defense in instances in which the employer can demonstrate that it exercised reasonable care to prevent, or promptly correct harassment, and additionally that the employee failed to take advantage of those corrective opportunities.

The changes implemented by the ELUA streamline Ohio workplace discrimination law in accordance with the same procedural standards under federal law and eliminate confusion in the existing Ohio law. Accordingly, both employers and employees will benefit from the streamlined procedures.

Although the new Ohio law simplifies the administrative process for employers and employees alike when it comes to either asserting or defending workplace discrimination claims, there is no change with respect to what conduct constitutes workplace discrimination against employers. For questions regarding your responsibilities or rights as either an employer or an employee under existing law or the new ELUA, please reach out to Rachelle Kuznicki Zidar at RZidar@WickensLaw.com or Matthew N. Danese at MDanese@WickensLaw.com.

The ELUA does not have retroactive effect, meaning claims filed prior to its effective date of April 15, 2021 are not bound by its provisions.

 

This article provides an overview and summary of the matters described therein. It is not intended to be and should not be construed as legal advice on the particular subject.